A new report by two Delhi pediatricians suggests that the sharp rise in childhood paralysis in India is due to the increased usage of the oral polio vaccine, a drug that was banned in the U.S. over a decade ago.
Dr. Neetu Vashisht and Dr. Jacob Puliyel of St. Stephens Hospital created the report after analyzing data from India’s 10-year-old National Polio Surveillance Project, which is available online. Their findings, which were published in the Indian Journal of medical Ethics, revealed that rates of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) have increased 1200% since the oral polio vaccine was introduced to India a decade ago.
The oral polio vaccine contains a live polio virus and has been linked to polio-like paralysis. Polio vaccines used in other countries do not include the live virus, but polio vaccines used in India do.
The doctors provided other troubling details in their report:
“In 2011, there were an extra 47500 new cases of NPAFP [in India]. Clinically indistinguishable from polio paralysis but twice as deadly, the incidence of NPAFP was directly proportional to doses of oral polio received.”
Ajay Khera, the Deputy Commissioner for Child Health and Immunisation for the Ministry of Family and Health Welfare (MHFW), downplayed the significance of the findings in an interview with Tehelka News. In reference to the rise in paralysis cases, he said, “It’s not an alert sign but indicative of the quality of the surveillance.”
However, increases in surveillance quality over time do not explain the strong location-based correlation discovered by Vashist and Puliyel. According to the report:
“In the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar, which have pulse polio rounds nearly every month, the non-polio AFP rate is 25- and 35-fold higher than the international norms. The relationship of the non-polio AFP rate is curvilinear with a more steep increase beyond six doses of OPV in one year.”
Vashist and Puliyel were also concerned by the lack of attention that the polio survey administrators gave to the paralysis results:
"Though this data was collected within the polio surveillance system, it was not investigated… It is sad that, even after meticulous surveillance, this large excess in the incidence of paralysis was not investigated as a possible signal, nor was any effort made to try and study the mechanism for this spurt in non-polio AFP.”
In addition, other medical professionals are skeptical about the claim that the paralysis cases are not linked to polio. “Did they misclassify NPAFP when they denied that the increase in vaccine doses is related to the increase in NPAFP cases?”asked Dr SK Mittal, former professor and Head of Pediatrics at India’s Maulana Azad Medical College.
Drug companies and regulators have long known about the harmful effects of the oral polio vaccine that includes the live virus. In 1976, vaccine inventor Jonas Salk admitted to the United States Congress that the live polio vaccine was the “principal if not sole cause” of all reported polio cases in the U.S. since 1961, according to Salem News.
The website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also describes the paralyzing side effects of the oral polio vaccine:
"From 1980 through 1999, there were 162 confirmed cases of paralytic polio reported. Of the 162 cases, eight cases were acquired outside the United States and imported... The remaining 154 cases were vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) caused by live oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV).”
The debilitating – and sometimes deadly – side effects of the oral polio vaccine led the U.S. to stop using it in 2000, the New York Times reported. However, many governments around the world still administer the dangerous vaccine to their citizens. Despite the grave concerns that have been raised, the vaccine manufacturers and the health agencies they have partnered with around the world are shifting the oral polio vaccination effort into high gear – and there are no signs of stopping.