As India nears polio eradication, researchers ponder new vaccines

Today marks the end of the first year in which India had zero reported cases of polio, a major milestone for a country that's pushed hard in recent years to eliminate the disease. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are now the only nations in the world in which the disease remains endemic.

India's triumph is the result of a $2 billion program in which healthcare workers swarmed train and bus stations, market places and other public areas to vaccinate hundreds of millions of kids, explains Reuters. A large part of their success comes from the ease of storing, transporting and delivering oral polio vaccines (OPV), which use live virus strains to protect children from the disease.

"Looking to the future we clearly want to get away from using oral polio vaccine altogether--because with OPV we continue to be putting live viruses into people and into the environment," said David Salisbury, chair of the WHO's European Certification Commission for Polio Eradication, according to Reuters. Health officials don't want the risk of contracting the disease from a vaccine to outweigh the likelihood that a person would catch it naturally in the wild.

The alternative to OPVs is inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). However, IPVs are more difficult to store and have to be injected by a qualified healthcare professional. Most countries change over to IPVs after polio has been eradicated with OPVs, but that could be a challenge in India where resources for such a switch aren't readily available. In order to make the vaccines less expensive, researchers hope they can stretch IPVs with adjuvant or inject the vaccine into the skin rather than the muscle.

- read the Reuters article