India has produced a vaccine to battle against cervical cancer, which claims the lives of 70,000 Indian women annually. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the country. The vaccine named Cervavac was manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and has been included in the national immunisation programme.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasised that infection with specific types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of nearly all cervical cancers, taking 15 to 20 years to manifest.

Developed through a collaborative effort between the Indian government and SII, the vaccine received approval from the country’s drugs controller general and is now set to be administered free of charge to girls aged nine to 14 years.

Previously, the high cost of doses from foreign pharmaceutical giants Merck and GSK limited accessibility to the HPV vaccine in India. However, with Cervavac’s integration into the national immunisation program, this life-saving vaccine is now accessible to a broader demographic.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla announced that the vaccine would be supplied to the government for INR 300-400 per dose by December. With a current production capacity of 70 million doses annually, SII aims to double production by 2026. Poonawalla expressed the intention to export the vaccine to African countries, the Indian subcontinent, and possibly South America, with plans to manufacture the 9-valent vaccine for European and American markets.

AccessIBSA project coordinator Achal Prabhala questioned the 18-year delay in developing a low-cost indigenous vaccine, citing the availability of vaccines in the West. SII Executive Director Umesh Shaligram attributed the delay partly to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite WHO’s recommendations for regular cervical cancer screenings for women over 30, less than 2% of Indian women aged 30 to 49 have undergone such screenings.