The authorities are considering banning certain polio vaccines – can this play out in the UK?

Several expert scientists advise that these questions should be reconsidered as vaccination strategies remain the best option for preventing the spread of the virus

The Swiss health authorities are considering suspending the use of several vaccines because they may not be as effective against the spread of polio. Could these kinds of development in the vaccine field mean that future vaccinations – like the one to combat polio – would lose much of their potency?

During the 1980s and 1990s, those doing a thorough analysis of the effectiveness of vaccines found that the main stand-out candidate, vitamin A, came closest to performing 100% of the time. Now, multiple booster vaccines are being considered for the polio vaccine because their effect on the rate of transmission of the virus becomes less powerful. The Swiss vaccines currently recommended are Vitamin A or Vitamin C and either a combination of zinc or copper. But health authorities would like to consider using about a dozen other boosters.

The experts point out that many other researchers have been trying to improve vaccines that claim to protect against several diseases, but so far all these efforts have failed. Those familiar with these types of questions say that there must be challenges in individual efforts to improve the vaccine that might also explain why newer attempts haven’t yielded greater benefits.

A number of existing and prospective vaccines have already been found to produce fewer beneficial effects than traditional versions on the part of those who have been vaccinated. But the question of whether some vaccines will “die” when additional boosters are added is crucial, experts say. And perhaps the benefits of older, some so-called “shot wounds” – sometimes included in the same shot – should be considered over newer versions.

We recommend multivalent vaccines to everyone who has received the recent polio vaccination for individuals who haven’t had any prior vaccinations: especially considering the potential risks that meningitis or tetanus may present, and the importance of vaccinating adolescents as well. – Jason Kupfer, Wellcome Trust Europe spokesman and an expert on vaccine safety

For several reasons, most frequently environmental and immune factors, routine childhood immunisations are never tested by small controlled trials with the possibility of achieving the regulatory requirements needed for licensure. Any future trials are therefore the best way to compare the vaccine’s safety with others. Despite the science of vaccinations, which is now consistent with the findings of countless scientific papers and original research, industry groups and health professionals continue to engage in a cacophony of opinion about the safety of vaccines and that can be a problem for the public. This cacophony can turn even experts skeptical about any vaccination based on the agenda-driven statements of special interest groups or industry advocates who have a vested interest in their product.

To protect children from vaccine preventable diseases, we encourage parents and health care professionals to reconsider the need for multiple boosters. This would not affect the uptake of vaccines, particularly in poor countries where vaccination coverage is low. There are also many therapies available as well as a WHO immunisation toolkit to help bring immunisation rates to sufficient levels, as in the case of the new measles vaccine. As immunisation rates and the benefits of vaccinating children become more widespread, it should be better understood whether multiple boosters will be beneficial. We recommend multivalent vaccines to everyone who has received the recent polio vaccination for individuals who haven’t had any prior vaccinations: especially considering the potential risks that meningitis or tetanus may present, and the importance of vaccinating adolescents as well. – Jason Kupfer, Wellcome Trust Europe spokesman and an expert on vaccine safety

Interactive graphic: Where is polio in the world?

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