WHO to focus on safe withdrawal of oral vaccine in polio-free India

WHO to focus on safe withdrawal of oral vaccine in polio-free India

Nearly five months after declaring India free of polio, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now focussing on implementing a risk-free withdrawal of the oral polio vaccine.

At the regional consultation meeting on polio eradication and immunisation here on Tuesday, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia, said that member-states of the region were working on implementing the final and most critical strategy for polio eradication: the Polio Endgame Strategy.

The first phase of this strategy involves a global switch from the trivalent oral polio vaccine to the bivalent oral polio vaccine in the immunisation programme and the introduction of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) in the entire country prior to this switch.

“The immunisation target of WHO South-East Asia Region is to introduce IPV in the entire region by 2015 followed by (a) switch from tOPV to bOPV in 2016. I am happy to inform you that of 11 countries in the region, seven countries have already taken a decision on IPV introduction and four are in the final stages of decision-making,” she said.

Dr Singh further said, “Efforts are being taken to improve routine oral polio vaccine coverage uniformly in all countries of the region.

 Additionally, we are maintaining a highly sensitive AFP (Acute Flaccid Paralysis) surveillance system for all polioviruses.”

‘Risk still exists’

Stating that the risk still exists with many neighbouring countries having the virus live, she assured that an effective plan would be in place in case of an emergency situation.

“In our region, measles is one of the most widespread causes of childhood deaths even though it is vaccine-preventable. The continued high burden of measles cases stems primarily from underutilisation of measles vaccine and inadequate vaccination coverage due to weak immunisation services.

 The South-East Asia Region has passed a resolution at the 66th Regional Committee in 2013 to eliminate measles and control rubella by 2020 and elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2015.”

Pointing out that it was a strong political will and co-ordination of non-profit organisations that made it happen, Dr Nata Menabde, WHO representative to India, said, “India has to sustain its polio-free status until polio is eradicated globally.”