The recent polio vaccine scare in India -should you be worried about your child’s safety?

Voxytalksy finds out what led to the recent polio health scare in India, what the government did about and what you can do to ensure your child is safe from this debilitating disease.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Remember the time when India celebrated the day of eradication of polio (poliomyelitis) barely 4 years ago on 27 March 2014? That was the day when the WHO (World Health Organization) declared India as one of the nations which wascompletely free of wild polio.

India is considered a champion for becoming a “polio-free nation” under its Pulse Polio program launched in 1994, but now it seems things are back to square one.

Is Polio back in India?

Apparently, in a new scare that may affect your child too, a few cases of wild polio have crept into our country and this news is not welcoming at all! Polio as a disease is not only crippling but can also lead to death in rare cases.

The last reported cases of wild polio in India date back to 13 January 2011. However, in freshly reported events, this paralyzing disease is again in the news because lakhs of contaminated polio drop vials have been administered to children across the country.

What is the issue? Why is it scary?

A public health scare has emerged about a fresh possible outbreak of polio in the country after polio drop vials manufactured by a private company namely, Bio-Med Pvt. Ltd. based in Ghaziabad. were found to be contaminated with strain II of the virus.

  • These vials were distributed freely as part of various government polio eradication drive.
  • However, what is alarming is that these vials were contaminated with something that was supposedly eradicated back in 2014.
  • The WHO had categorically phased out the type-2 virus serum from India around April 2016 since it didn’t want vaccine-derived polio to arise again after the outbreak of 2002.
  • Surprisingly, this is what happened and the company was still somehow manufacturing these vaccines even though they had been phased out in 2016 itself!

The scary part?

  • At least 150,000 vials of this oral vaccine are confirmed contaminated with type II polio.
  • They have been administered to children below 5 years of age in states of Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh.
  • There was a time when UP alone once reported nearly 2/3rd of all polio cases worldwide).

What is poliomyelitis?

  • Polio (poliomyelitis) mainly affects children under 5 years of age and can lead to irreversible paralysis amongst every 1 in 200 cases. It comes in the form of three distinct polioviruses—types I, II, and III.
  • The disease not only hinders bone growth, but it can also lead to certain death in 5% cases when muscles responsible for breathing (around the lung) immobilize and collapse.
  • Wild poliovirus cases are still found in some regions of the world of which 22 reported cases happened in 2017.
  • Till date, more than 16 million lives have been saved from this debilitating disease.
  • This disease can spread from one single child. This is why complete eradication is necessary since Polio has no cure, it can only be subverted.
  • Each child is administered four doses of vaccination from infancy to six years of age either orally or through injection.

What does the WHO have to say about this?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have denied any threat to India’s children from the type-2 poliovirus. They are still upholding the polio-free country status for India.

  • They are confident that chances of children getting vaccine-derived poliovirus are minimal since India has a robust vaccination schedule.
  • The two agencies have asserted to all parents that all vaccines are safe to administer and that bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) is slowly being replaced by the advanced trivalent OPV (tOPV) in almost all polio campaigns and routine immunizations in India.

What action has the government taken during this issue?

  • It was the government’s constant stool sample checking drive which detected the virus initially.
  • All vials containing traces of Type 2 polio vaccine virus from the above-mentioned manufacturer were withdrawn with immediate effect.

What you as a parent can ensure for your child’s safety?

Since September 2015, the WHO has declared type-2 polio fully eradicated from India. The only harm that can happen is from vaccine virus and not from the wild virus, at least this is what the WHO claims.

There may be minimal chances of a public health crisis, but to ensure that your child gets proper coverage from any polio outbreak you need to check his/her health records to find out whether your child got polio vaccination via an injective method or the oral method.

Check your child’s immunization type

  • WHO claims that the injective method, known as inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) contains dead strains of the three types of the virus and cannot lead to any kind of vaccine-derived infection or outbreaks.
  • On the other hand, the oral method contains live (less virulent) strains of the three virus types and can lead to vaccine-induced polio. However, chances of that are very rare (about one in 750,000 cases can contract polio in case of vial contamination).

Bivalent or trivalent?

  • To make sure your child is safe, check the immunization record. WHO says all children who have received at least three doses of the trivalent oral vaccination (administered during or before April 2016) are completely protected.
  • Every child who has received only bivalent oral vaccination (administered after April 2016) still may be at a potential risk.
  • Since the government has not completely switched to IPV from oral vaccines due to its high cost, it is better advised to get your child at least one dose of the IPV shot to protect your child from this deadly disease.

Check the vial

  • As an added measure, you should check the manufacturer, manufacturing date and expiry of the vial being given to your child.
  • The vials have a safety mechanism due to which if the vial’s mouth is contaminated, the vaccine vial will change to a dark-ish color from transparent. You should avoid and reject any vial from the above-mentioned

We hope this article helps you! Thanks for reading.


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