The Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program (VAP) is a bilateral program, which supports a broad spectrum of activities relating to immunization and vaccine related research. The program was designed to encompass laboratory-based research, epidemiological studies, field trials, vaccine quality control, and delivery of vaccines. Under the VAP, U.S. and Indian scientists carry out collaborative research projects directed toward development of vaccines and immunodiagnostic reagents, or to address other issues which are important for vaccine research. All work is carried out within areas designated as priorities by the VAP Joint Working Group (JWG), which is comprised of scientists and officials from both countries. The JWG establishes the policies and scientific directions for the program, makes decisions on major activities, and provides scientific oversight and evaluation. The “nodal agencies” for this cooperation are India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) within its Ministry of Science and Technology, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, the JWG is co-chaired by Dr. Rafi Ahmed, Emory University, and Dr. K. Vijay Raghavan, present Secretary, DBT. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) also is a VAP partner and the ICMR Director General traditionally co-chairs the JWG. The current DG-ICMR is Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who is also the Secretary of the Department of Health Research, within India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The Indian members of the JWG also constitute the "Apex Committee" in India and are appointed by the Prime Minister. As a committee appointed by the Prime Minister, the Apex Committee has the power to review and approve activities and projects on the Indian side. This, coupled with the "nodal agency" authority bestowed on DBT by the VAP MOU, has given this program an extraordinarily efficient administrative system through which decisions can be made rapidly. Many projects, for example, have been reviewed and approved in a few months and scientist exchange visits in as little time as two weeks.
Priorities under VAP currently include: dengue, enteric diseases, influenza (including avian influenza), malaria, and tuberculosis (TB). The program has been further expanded to include initiatives focused on TB clinical research and human immunology. Additional areas of interest include research on antimicrobial resistance, chikungunya vaccines, infant immunology and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
In 2012, VAP completed 25 years and the silver jubilee was commemorated in India with a Symposium on Immunology during the JWG meeting. In March 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched India’s first indigenous rotavirus vaccine, which, in its early phase, started as a research cooperation under the VAP. The leaders of the two countries have great hopes for the VAP as evident from the Joint Statement issued by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, during his visit to Washington in September 2014. The leaders agreed to “launch a new phase of the India-U.S. Vaccine Action Program to develop affordable vaccines for dengue, malaria, and tuberculosis and the establishment of an adjuvant development center.” The program also was highlighted during the follow-up visit by President Obama to India in January 2015. In March 2015, India released its first indigenous vaccine, a vaccine against rotavirus—ROTAVAC. Early research leading to the development of this product was supported by the VAP. Over the years the project involved multiple public and private partners (see NIAID Press Release for details). It is estimated that wide use of this vaccine could save 80,000 children/year in India alone.