Vaccine Godmother of India

Ambica Gulati

Dr Gagandeep Kang Vaccine Godmother of India


Dr Kang was offered a teaching position at CMC in 1991 and took it up. “I was offered multiple positions and had a choice between neurovirology, which was a new and upcoming field, or going into gut infections. And I found the latter more interesting.” 

This wasn’t an easy period, as she had to manage two children, a home and work. Like her grandparents, Dr Kang kept an open house. Living on the campus, she went with the flow and obtained her PhD in 1998.    

Subsequently, her husband got a job in Houston, US, and even she obtained a scholarship to go to the UK. “CMC offers this opportunity to study abroad and I took it up in 1998.” 

The children were left with their grandparents for a year. Then she got a job in Houston and the entire family moved abroad—children and grandparents. These stints proved to be a milestone in Dr Kang’s researches. 

In the UK, she got a membership of the Royal College of Pathologists and then in the US, she carried out postdoctoral research with Mary K. Estes at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, before returning to CMC. “I wanted to come home and work here in India, because I thought my training in medicine and public health microbiology was unusual and greatly needed here.”



CMC is a mission hospital that has grown into a large medical institution, which treats people rationally and without an insistence on upfront payments. But in addition to the provision of patient care, CMC is also known for its quality of medical education. In the first year, all the students are sent out to live in the village community for three weeks. The primary work is data collection—names of families, age, gender, occupation, education, etc—but it allows mainly urban students to learn about the real world in India and this process is repeated in subsequent years in medical college. 

This community orientation programme left a profound impact, as Dr Kang came face-to-face with acute and chronic, common and uncommon illnesses. “For example, diarrhoea, which I work upon, is very common, but it is not glamorous. I like the idea of addressing problems that affect a lot of people. Vaccines provide long-term solutions to a large population and prevent the disease. This decreases the disease burden, especially for those who don’t have access to good healthcare.”

The approach to testing vaccines and then making them ready for use by the general population is a long as well as rigorous process, with years of study, and a mammoth network of like-minded organisations and people involved. “We started the disease burden estimate studies for rotavirus in 2001, and published the paper on vaccine efficacy in 2014. In between, we evaluated the vaccines, both clinically and in the lab; I set up a new lab to evaluate vaccines at CMC after completing training from the US. Notably, this was the second lab in the world carrying out these tests.” 

With the combination of community and patient-based studies backed by a state-of-the-art laboratory, success was a matter of time. Many studies culminated in the development of Rotavac, a vaccine from Bharat Biotech, which targets diarrhoea and its introduction into the national immunization programme in India. Today, Dr Kang is a leading researcher with a focus on viral infections, serving on many committees that support national health policy-making decisions.



“My colleagues and I have been studying typhoid since 2016. In 2022, we have shown the government that there is enough disease burden to think about introducing a vaccine. As I retire soon, the study will be taken forward by my young colleagues and I will be an adjunct investigator,” she says. 

In Goa, at the Double Stranded RNA Virus meeting in Goa in 2015. Professor Mary Estes, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston (Gagandeep's mentor), Dr. Sasirekha Ramani, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston (Gagandeep's first PhD student) and Gagandeep In Goa, at the Double Stranded RNA Virus meeting in Goa in 2015. Professor Mary Estes, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston (Gagandeep’s mentor), Dr. Sasirekha Ramani, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston (Gagandeep’s first PhD student) and Gagandeep

The study has taken place in remote areas pan-India, such as the Himalayas, tribal belt of Maharashtra, rural Assam and more. “Antibiotics are a temporary solution. If there is an effective vaccine, we can prevent the illness and also the emergence of drug resistant organisms,” she beams.



Hailing from a family of avid readers, Dr Kang says education is a lifelong exercise. “After his retirement, my father became a licensed computer technician in the US. He firmly believed that there is a solution to every problem, and he found those solutions,” she says. 

Among her favourite books is To Kill A Mockingbird. Her leisure time is spent with friends and Dr Kang enjoys holidays with them. Trips to Italy and Chettinad remain embedded in her memory. 



Dr Kang has published over 400 scientific papers and has been on the editorial boards of several journals, including PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Expert Review of Vaccines, Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine and International Health.

She is on many review committees for national and international research funding agencies, and has served on several advisory committees, mainly related to vaccines, including India’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and many WHO committees. She chaired the WHO SEAR’s Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group from 2014 to 2022. 

She has received honorary appointments at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. 

She was awarded the prestigious Infosys Prize in Life Sciences in 2016 for her contribution to understanding the natural history of rotavirus and other infectious diseases, and has received honorary doctorates from Sanjay Gandhi Institute of Post-graduate Medical Sciences and Punjabi University.

Dr Kang’s other honours include:

  • Dr. P.N. Berry Fellowship (1998-1999)
  • The Lourdu Yedanapalli Award for Excellence in Research (2005)
  • Woman Bioscientist of the Year (2006)

For her, the road to good health lies in foresight and early planning. She keeps pushing the barriers and remains committed to steady research, as health is truly wealth!  


The Global Sikh Trail is committed to mentor and inspire people to follow their chosen passions. To enable this, this platform is trying to connect all the luminaries of the community and the youth so that the young can be mentored by the best. Dr. Gagandeep Kaur Kang can be contacted at

Ambica Gulati
Armed with an experience of two decades in journalism, Ambica Gulati is a storyteller. She loves meeting people, exploring places and is turning into a photo geek. She has been part of an eminent coffee table book 100 Legal Luminaries of India, worked in magazines (Life Positive, Swagat, Outlook Traveller), written on food, culture wellness and more, and is bored when stationed in one place for too long. Follow her on