Bihar waits for vaccine that fights two polio strains

By Richa Sharma, IANS,

Saharsa (Bihar) : One of India’s polio endemic states, Bihar is eagerly awaiting the bivalent oral polio vaccine (BoPV) to protect its children from two dangerous strains of the disease. But its introduction may take time.

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“We have been told that bivalent vaccine will be made available to the state by January or February next year,” Hemant Shukla, regional team Leader of National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP), told IANS.

“We have not had cases of the P1 polio virus from June this year but cases of P3 virus are increasing. The bivalent vaccine will provide protection against both the strains,”

What has put the focus on the bivalent vaccine is a rising number of P3 cases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. P1 accounted for 95 percent of polio cases in the country till 2006. But now, children in India are being afflicted with both P1 and P3 polio strains.

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad recently said that India will soon introduce the bivalent vaccine to provide protection to children from both the strains of polio, which can be crippling for children under five.

The vaccine is considered to provide more immunity to children against both the strains. At the moment, India is using monovalent oral polio vaccine (mOPV) and the trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV).

Bihar, according to health officials, is more focused on eradication of the P1 strain which is the most dangerous form of polio as it can cause huge outbreaks and travel long distances and lead to paralysis in one out of every 200 infected children compared to type 3, which causes paralysis in one out of every 1,000 infections.

“The problem is that if we administer monovalent vaccine for P1 strain, the number of P3 cases rise and it is vice versa. We are more focused on the P1 strain so P3 cases have risen here. P1 is the most difficult to eradicate and spreads widely. In 2007, the P1 virus was transferred from India to Angola and it is the highest priority for us,” said Shukla.

But health officials indicate it may take time.

A senior health official here said the central government is yet to take a call on issuing licenses to companies for production of the bivalent vaccine and it will be available around March or April, 2010.

This year, so far 650 polio cases have been reported in India as compared to 559 in 2008. In 2007, 874 cases were reported.

Western Uttar Pradesh, considered to be the hub of polio in the country, is witnessing a sharp rise in type 3 cases – 492 cases out of total 522 cases this year.

The same is being seen in Bihar where of the total 110 cases, 72 cases are type 3. North central Bihar is a high risk area for polio reporting 80 percent of polio cases in the state.

The use of BoPV was also recommended by the India Advisory Group in Polio Eradication earlier this year. The advisory group comprising international health experts had favoured it in combating both the strains.

Accessibility poses a big challenge in the eradication of polio from the state as the majority of high risk regions falls in the embankment areas of Kosi river, which are inundated for four months in a year due to floods.

Polio remains endemic in just four countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – down from 125 countries in 1988.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])