A group of experts in Chennai have called for a national policy on vaccination and sustained disease surveillance.
The American consulate in Chennai brought together a dozen immunisation experts this week. The US has a Vaccine Action Programme (VAP) with India that began in 1984.
India's vaccination modules go by a plethora of names though it is part of a global programme to achieve 100 per cent immunisation for 22 diseases by 2015.
"India urgently needs a national immunisation policy and a nationwide surveillance programme. It costs just 2 cents to track 15 notified diseases per child per year," said Jacob John, scientist emeritus at the department of virology at Vellore's Christian Medical College.
The national rate of success for the vaccination programme is 42 per cent, with wide regional variation. While it is just 11 per cent in Bihar and 44 per cent in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu claims a success rate of more than 90 per cent.
India's vaccination story began in 1948 when the BCG vaccine was offered for immunity from tuberculosis (TB). Sixty years on, the government estimates that 17 million people are carrying the TB virus.
India needs nearly 60 million BCG vaccines every year. It imports about 20 million doses through the UN children's agency UNICEF and manufactures the rest.
As part of a larger exercise known as the Routine Immunisation Programme (RIP), which began in 1978, the BCG vaccination was administered at birth. It included a DPT vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
The tetanus immunisation begins with pregnant women and the first DPT dose is generally give to the baby at the age of one month, followed by doses at two-and-a-half months and three-and-a-half months.
It is repeated at one-and-a-half years, in certain states at three years and sometimes the dose is given at age five, 10 and 16 years.
"In states like Tamil Nadu, where the tetanus programme has been around for more than 25 years, it is expected that women are already immunised and are not supposed to need the vaccination when they give birth," said John.
Despite a countrywide campaign costing Rs.20 billion, India is among the top 10 countries that have not yet managed to end polio. Sixty cases of the disease were found in 2007 while 674 cases were reported last year.