The Gates Foundation was not kicked out of India over HPV vaccine project

13 October 2023
What was claimed

The Indian Parliament kicked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation out of India.

Our verdict

This is false. The Gates Foundation is still working in India and has an office in Delhi.

What was claimed

An HPV vaccine trial by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation left thousands of Indian girls from tribal communities disabled or injured.

Our verdict

We have found no evidence that thousands of girls were left injured or disabled. While seven girls on the vaccination programme died, a committee set up by the Indian Government found that none of these deaths were likely to have been linked to the vaccine.

A Facebook post has claimed that thousands of Indian girls were injured or disabled by the HPV vaccine in 2009 and this led to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation being kicked out of India.

This is not correct. The Gates Foundation is still working in India, and Full Fact has found no evidence that thousands of girls involved in an HPV vaccination project there were left injured or disabled.

A committee set up by the Indian Government found that the deaths of seven girls who were given HPV vaccines were “most probably unrelated to the vaccine”. However, the committee also found that reporting on adverse events after immunisation was inadequate.

Both vaccines used had been approved for use in India, and the US Food and Drug Administration has said that studies of tens of thousands of women were conducted to evaluate their safety. 

Health misinformation on vaccines can cause direct damage to people’s physical or psychological health, and can put particular communities at risk. Health misinformation that spreads at scale can also create distrust of medical professionals, and distract from or undermine medical consensus and public health messaging. 

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Where do these claims come from?

These claims seem to originate from a project which gave the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to around 24,000 girls in India aged 10 to 14, including girls from tribal communities.

The study was carried out by the non-profit organisation Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and state governments in the districts of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat from 2007.

It was suspended in March 2010 following an outcry from activists and “national leaders” to news stories that some of the girls who received the vaccine had died. 

The project was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and used vaccines donated by GSK and MSD. 

Did the study leave thousands of girls injured or disabled?

A committee set up by the Indian Government in 2011 found that the deaths reported in the vaccinated girls were “most probably unrelated to the vaccine” though the cause of death in all the cases could not be “established with certainty”.

Two of the girls died after ingesting poisonous substances, one from a suspected snake bite, one from malaria, and another drowned in a well. The report said these could not be linked to the vaccines

One girl died from a “probable” brain haemorrhage and the seventh from a viral fever. But the report said it was “unlikely” these deaths were linked to vaccines

The report also lists three serious adverse reactions following vaccination, but said that the reporting of non-serious adverse events was “grossly under represented” which “raises questions about the accuracy of SAEs [serious adverse events] as well”.

It also said that the “gross inadequacy” of the programme monitoring adverse events following immunisation was shown by the rates of reported adverse events. It added: “The prevalence of minor AE [adverse event] in [Andhra Pradesh], following Gardasil, was 0.29% after the 1st dose (14,091), 0.37% after the second dose (13,905) and 1.37% after the third dose (13,791).”

The report also says that in Andhra Pradesh only 10 girls developed pain after the first dose while none reported it as a minor adverse effect in Gujarat, while clinical trials found the most common adverse reaction was pain in 84% of cases. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report from 2016 [page 3] says that injection site reaction was reported in 83% of cases with the quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil is a quadrivalent vaccine) and injection site pain in 78% of cases with the bivalent vaccine (Cervarix is a bivalent vaccine).

But we have been unable to find any sources which suggest thousands of girls were injured or disabled as a result of the vaccine programme.

Was the Gates Foundation “kicked out” of India?

We have previously written that this claim may be a distortion of news back in 2017 that the Indian government would partially fund an immunisation program in New Delhi previously funded by the Gates Foundation.

When people started claiming that the foundation had been kicked out of India, the Indian government said this was not true.

The Gates Foundation website says it has an office in India and it works with central and state governments, community groups, non-profits, academic institutions, the private sector and development organisations there.

The Gates Foundation told us that there was “no merit” in claims the Indian Government had issued a directive against it to pause or stop its work there.

Image courtesy of Masaru Kamikura

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