Centre terms data on Covid vax stocks ‘sensitive’, health experts disagree

States and Union territories have been asked not to reveal data about vaccine stocks and the temperature of vaccine storage in public fora.

Centre terms data on Covid vax stocks ‘sensitive’, health experts disagree
A man gestures to notices displayed in a civil hospital indicating about the Covid vaccine being out of stock in Amritsar, Punjab, on May 17, 2021. (Photo credit: AFP)

New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has clarified that its advice to states and Union Territories to obtain permission before sharing Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) data on vaccine stocks and temperature of storage has been given to prevent any misuse of this information by various agencies for commercial purposes.

“The crucial information related to specific vaccine usage trends for multiple vaccines used in Universal Immunization Programme (UIP), and temperature-related data in respect to each such vaccine, can be used to manipulate the market as well as associated research with respect to various vaccines and cold chain equipments,” the ministry said on June 10.

MoHFW is using the eVIN electronic platform for all vaccines used under UIP for more than six years now. Sharing of sensitive eVIN data on stocks and storage, temperature requires the Health Ministry’s prior consent, the statement further said.

This comes in the backdrop of Government of India writing to the states and UTs governments instructing them to not disclose data related to vaccine stocks and the temperature of vaccine storage at public forums.

The Centre has called such data stored in the eVIN system as “sensitive information and to be used only for programme improvement”.

“In this regard, please be advised that data and analytics generated by eVIN for inventory and temperature is owned by the Ministry of Health and not to be shared with any other organisation, partner agency, media agency, online and offline public forums without the consent of the ministry,” Pradeep Haldar, Advisor, Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) wrote.

The letter was sent to all mission directors of the National Health Mission in all the states and Union territories.

In a recent letter to the states, the Union health ministry said the Centre, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, launched the eVIN system under ‘Universal Immunization Programme’ (UIP).

The system is used to track the vaccine stock status and the temperature at all levels of vaccine storage, from national to the sub-district level.

The health ministry said it was overwhelming to see that all the states are using the system to update the stock and transactions of Covid vaccines on a daily basis.

Speaking with TV9 News, Anish Sinha, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, said that such data has not been shared in public domain for other vaccines like BCG as well.

“There might some panic in the population if the vaccines are unavailable and may also lead to crowding at session sites.”

Some public health experts disagree

However, other public health experts don’t see it as classified information that cannot be made public.

A public health expert who did not wish to be named told TV9 News that there doesn’t seem to be any sensitivity in declaring stocks even medicine stocks are declared at many places by public hospitals.

“The government should justify what is the sensitivity in keeping this information secret. What is there to hide if there is no stock.”

Centre, states at loggerheads

The Centre and states have sparred over the availability of vaccine doses. While the states claim there is a shortage of vaccines the Centre denied it.

The health expert who did not wish to be named says at least at an aggregate level, if not at each public health centre (PHC) level, such data can be revealed.

“The public should know whether the vaccine will be available and for how long for them to plan. It is the public money that is being used for the public. If the stock at each level is known the problem can be found out and fixed.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rare public health emergency, so transparency in vaccine data helps prevent misuse and corruption.

It lets people know the truth about vaccine availability and administration and if they don’t match, accountability can be fixed.