WHO Reassures Parents: Botched Polio Vaccines in Three Indian States Pose No Threat to Kids

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Oct 3, 2018

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Photo courtesy CTV News

Last week, news broke that tainted polio vaccines were being administered in three Indian states: Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Indian government, is reassuring parents that this is an isolated incident and should not impact their commitment to vaccinating their children, reports Reuters.

Ghaziabad private firm Bio-Med Pvt. Ltd. is responsible for producing and distributing polio vaccines as part of the government’s drive to eradicate polio. Polio vaccines, administered either orally or via injection, come in three types – Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 of the polio virus. Over time, the Type 2 strain of polio was declared globally eradicated, and WHO eventually recommended phasing out Type 2 vaccine in 2016, to prevent the risk of children getting “vaccine-derived polio,” a very rare situation in which a person gets infected by the vaccine (incidentally, this is more likely in countries where the community is under-immunized).

Routine testing last week revealed that approximately 150,000 oral vaccine vials shipped by the company were contaminated with traces of Type 2 strain, which showed up in infant stool samples. The traces have caused panic, especially since India has been declared polio-free by the WHO in 2014.

However, WHO spokesperson Shamila Sharma, as well as the government, are assuring people that the situation is one of “minimal” risk and therefore not a reason to panic, per Reuters.

Government officials told The Wire that while these bivalent vaccines (meaning they only had Type 1 and Type 3 strains) were contaminated with the Type 2 strain, they showed only trace amounts of the virus. And what’s more, the virus was found in a weakened, less virulent form, which can be considered almost harmless — “like a tiger without teeth,” they explained.

With regards to the stool samples showing traces of the Type 2 strain, it is common to see traces of the virus in them, as the body naturally pushes the antigen out of the system — that’s exactly how all vaccines work. 

Home to thousands of pharmaceutical factories, India’s problem consistently lies in the lax local regulations of quality checks. While this specific instance seems, upon closer inspection, quite benign, it does nothing to assuage parental mistrust of Indian manufactured drugs. And with the rising influence of anti-vaxxer propaganda, this is a particularly dangerous time to let vaccines suffer a PR problem.  If it truly wants its inoculation campaigns to succeed, the Government of India must first commit to stringently and effectively overseeing the manufacture and distribution of the country’s drug supply.

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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