Months after a batch of polio vaccines produced by Biomed, a pharmaceutical company based out of Ghaziabad, was found to be contaminated, the government is now reportedly faced with a shortage of polio vaccines. At least two states have confirmed to TNM that the next round of Pulse Polio Immunisation (PPI) campaign has been postponed and they have received an intimation from the central government on the same.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued a letter to all the states in the country, dated January 18, the campaign which was initially planned to take place on February 3 is being postponed to a later date, which is yet to be announced.
“As of now the only information we have been given is that the campaign has been postponed, nothing else,” said Dr Radhakrishnan, Tamil Nadu Health Secretary to TNM, “When further intimation is given then we will plan to take appropriate actions as necessary.”
Andhra Pradesh Health Secretary's office too confirmed the same. Director of Public Health Dr K Kolandaswamy told TNM that the state received an intimation last week. "The centre has however not stated the new date or the reason for postponement."
However it has been reported that Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have sufficient stocks of the vaccine. An official from the Kerala state Health Department told TNM that they have not yet been informed about when the campaign is now set to take place.
Meanwhile, the Centre has denied that there is any shortage of the vaccines.
"As far as polio national immunization days (NID) is concerned, the required quantity of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) has already been secured for the programme. However, to ensure availability of safe and quality vaccine to our children during NID, the testing of bOPV is made more stringent and the same will be dispatched to states for public use after the clearance from national testing laboratory for each batch and Polio NID will be held soon," it stated in a press release, further adding that there was "neither shortage of IPV nor any shortage of funds for its procurement for Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) in the country."
In October last year, news broke of the contamination of a few batches of polio vaccine which had been produced by Biomed. It was also reported at the time that these vaccines had been administered to children in Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. Subsequent follow-up, however, indicated that there was no imminent danger to anyone who had been administered the allegedly contaminated vaccines. It was found that the polio vaccines were contaminated by an older strain (strain II) of the polio virus which India had eradicated in 2014, since which it was given the ‘polio-free’ status. Biomed was shut down after the contamination was detected.
After the incident, only two other manufacturers, Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotec, were given permission by the Indian government to produce the vaccine. “Depending on the process, it can take anywhere around 20 days to produce a viable polio vaccine,” said a pharmaceutical source to TNM, indicating that until enough vaccines are produced to be supplied to the country, the vaccination drive will be put on hold. The PPI campaign is usually conducted on a single day across the country.
Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio, is a disease caused by one of three strains of the polio virus. The three strains or serotypes are PV1, PV2 and PV3, all of which have been known to infect humans. Vaccines that are developed against polio can be of two types, oral polio vaccines (OPV) made using a weakened form of the virus, or the inactivated polio vaccines (IPV) which is developed with inactivated or killed forms of the virus.
The Indian government sought to tackle the problem of polio starting in 1978, when it introduced the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), which subsequently was altered over the years. The PPI programme, started in 1995, was one such “spin-off” of this campaign. The last known case of polio was documented in 2011 in West Bengal and Gujarat, following which India was given the “polio-free status” three years later.
However, while the PV2 strain was eradicated, it was advised by the WHO to continue routine vaccination against polio, but to switch to vaccines which were bivalent (containing only two strains) as opposed to previously used trivalent (containing three strains). The WHO had also recommended that all stock solutions of the PV2 strain be destroyed. Naturally it came as a shock that the Ghaziabad-based Biomed still had stock solutions of the eradicated strain, which then ended up somehow contaminating the batches of the vaccine.