Study: Polio Vaccine Combination May Boost Immunity.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative began in 1988 in order to put an end to one of the world’s most crippling diseases. The initiative is a joint effort by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments around the world, with the support of many others globally. So how is it going? Only three endemic countries remain and 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio. But the fight is far from over.

In May, the WHO declared an international public emergency after outbreaks were cited in 10 countries. Travel has begun to complicate the eradication effort, causing the threat of polio to re-emerge in countries once considered polio free.

We need to step up our efforts against the fight. MSN News (AP, 8/22, Neergaard) reported on a new study released by the World Health Organization in Science Magazine stating that children who received a single vaccine shot after already receiving an oral vaccine greatly boosted their immunity. WHO has begun using the combo oral vaccine and vaccine shot strategy in mass vaccination campaigns targeting hard-hit areas. It is also being introduced in developing countries.

“It could play a major role in completing the job of polio eradication once and for all,” said Dr. Hamid Jafari of the WHO and lead study author.

The key to eradicating polio in the tough-to-reach areas is taking maximum advantage of each vaccination encounter. Inevitably that means fewer doses but the same potency. As reported by the Los Angeles Times (8/22, Healy) “Science Now” blog, “vaccination campaigns are so easily disrupted by conflict, mass migrations and rumors of medical malfeasance, getting the highest level of polio immunity with the fewest vaccine doses delivered is key.”

The WHO’s global polio eradication effort has relied heavily on the oral vaccine due to cost and ease of administering the vaccination. But as revealed in TIME (8/22, Park), places where polio is rampant, such as Northern India, the oral vaccines weren’t doing much to reduce the disease’s burden. Multiple vaccinations were being given above the recommended three doses to control the spread of the disease and limit transmission. Something better had to be done. Researchers conducted a test adding the inactive shot vaccination to the schedule. Among 954 infants and children aged five years to 10 years who had already received several doses of oral vaccine, adding a shot of the inactivated vaccine helped them shed less virus compared to those who received another dose of the oral vaccine, adding strength and longevity to their immunity.

HealthDay (8/22, Preidt), MedPage Today (8/22, Smith), and Medscape (8/22, Hand) also covered the story.

Dr. Steven Lipsky

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