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Polio Outbreak in India due to Vaccine Failure, Says Expert

Bangalore: A top virologist has blamed the resurgence of polio in India on "unscientific" policy and "inadequacy" of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) used// for its eradication.

Polio cases have risen to 297 so far this year - four-and-a-half times that of last year. Appearance of Indian strains of the virus in neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh and in far away Africa has alarmed the World Health Organization (WHO).

Thekakkara Jacob John, an authority on childhood vaccines and emeritus professor at the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, says the debacle is the result of government decision to "exclusively" use live attenuated OPV ignoring the inactivated (killed) injectible polio vaccine (IPV) of higher efficacy.

The drug regulatory authority even declined to license IPV in India and the public sector IPV plant - set up with French collaboration --was closed down, "strongly suggesting an unscientific bias in favour of OPV and prejudice against IPV", he wrote in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Medical Research.

He said the government did not even want to "take follow-up action on the findings of a successful trial on IPV in Tamil Nadu".

Health ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

According to John, the "efficacy" of OPV depends on geographic settings. "While a child in America has a 99 percent probability of being fully immunized with three doses of OPV, our trials in Vellore showed only 75 percent and another study in Delhi found it to be even lower. It may be the lowest in western Uttar Pradesh where polio has now flared up," John told IANS in an interview.

The Indian programme that concentrated on "saturation coverage" with multiple doses of OPV ignored the fact that the vaccine basically lacked efficacy in Indian conditions.

"The delivered doses were not providing protective immunity to a substantial proportion of children," John said. "Lack
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