Quito, 29 April 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — Ecuador is continuing to protect millions of children against polio in the days following the earthquake that struck the country on 16 April. With the support of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a team from the Ministry of Public Health is continuing implementation of the strategy to switch from the trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV) to the new bivalent oral vaccine (bOPV). The process began on Sunday April 17 and will take two weeks.
Despite the human and material impact of the earthquake, the government decided to keep to the schedule by mobilizing hundreds of health workers. Despite damaged roads and other infrastructure, power outages and communication problems, the team managed to visit all the health posts in Manta, Portoviejo, and Pedernales that had stocks of the trivalent vaccine. Its mission was to make sure that the doses of tOPV were inventoried, transported to the regional vaccine bank, inactivated with sodium hypochlorite, and sent to a designated site for incineration.
These vaccines are based on weakened viruses and have saved the lives of millions of children worldwide. However, in extremely rare cases, the vaccine-derived virus has caused cases of polio.
With the eradication of wild poliovirus type 2, protection against this serotype is no longer necessary. However, the switch must be made simultaneously in all countries, since any exception can result in renewed circulation of the virus.
If Ecuador had not switched from the tOPV to the bOPV vaccine on schedule, there would have been a risk of the emergence of polio type 2. Other countries could also have been affected, jeopardizing years of efforts to eliminate the virus in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The switch is being coordinated in the Americas by PAHO and in Ecuador by the National Immunization Bureau.
The goal for 2020 is to fully eradicate wild polioviruses in every country and to discontinue use of the oral polio vaccines.