Will Polio Return to India? Contaminated Vaccines Raise Concerns That the Eradicated Disease May Strike Again
Oral polio drops (Photo Credits: Flickr, Center for Diseases Prevention and Control)

India was conferred its “Polio Free” status by the World Health Organization in 2014. The event was a victory for the scores of healthcare workers, governmental and non-governmental organisations who worked tirelessly to achieve this milestone. But an episode of negligence now seemingly threatens India’s hard-earned status, when an eradicated strain of type 2 poliovirus was found in around 150,000 vials of an oral polio drop. The strain of the virus has already been phased out by the Indian government in 2016.

Alarm bells rang out when type 2 poliovirus was detected in the stool samples of some children from Uttar Pradesh. How did an eradicated disease find its way back into the society again? Further investigation revealed the role of the privately-held pharmaceutical company Bio-Med responsible for the contamination. By now, scores of children in the Telangana, Maharashtra and UP areas may have been exposed to the deadly virus strain.

The MD of Bio-Med SP Garg has been arrested, and many others have been booked. Authorities have stepped up the vigilance, tracking the children who’ve been vaccinated by the tainted watch and keeping an eye out for any negative health outcomes. Don’t Give Polio Drops To Kids Under 5? Beware of Hoax Whatsapp Forward Spreading Fake News About Polio Vaccine.

What Can Be The Consequence of the Contamination?

The exposure of children to type 2 poliovirus can threaten to knock India off its “Polio Free” status. The type 2 strain of the virus had been withdrawn since 2016. India’s drug regulators Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) are investigating how the private vaccine maker released the deadly strain of the virus through the oral polio drops.

Experts are worried since the breach has seriously dented India’s attempts to eradicate polio. It is as good as reintroducing the community to a virus that has long been eradicated.

A health official told The Times of India that virus mutation is another serious risk, which may manifest in three to six months. Before the virus was phased out, a trivalent vaccine that contained viral strains 1, 2 and 3 were used. Once type 2 virus was eradicated, the vaccines administered to children after 2016 were bivalent, which means it only contained type 1 and type 2. Contaminated Polio Vaccine Vials In Telangana Recalled After Eradicated Virus Found in Oral Drops For Children.

T Jacob John, emeritus professor at the Christian Medical College Vellore, who spoke to the Telegraph noted that the children born after April 24, 2016, do not have the immunity against type 2 poliovirus, since India had phased it out that year.

Poliovirus is shed through the stool in vaccinated children. The government and regulatory authorities suspect that if the virus breaches the water system through the sewage, it can regain neuro-virulence and spread polio.

Despite being declared polio-free four years ago, India has always been vigilant about polio. With the potential reintroduction of the virus, the authorities may have to step up the surveillance.

While India is in a state of panic, WHO has assured that any risk due to the recent exposure would be minimal due to the country’s high routine polio immunisation coverage.