In May 2014 the Western Cape Department of Health announced that the measles vaccine was back in stock but that there was a shortage of the polio vaccine across the country. The short supply of vaccines is not a Western Cape problem, but one that is experienced by all provinces.
The supply problem has its origins at the Biovac Institute, which is the supplier of vaccines to the National Department of Health.
Though the polio vaccine was estimated to be back in stock by the end of June, Biovac confirmed today that the stock will be released much sooner.
“The stock is in the country already, and we have it in Biovac, but like all vaccines it still needs to undergo [routine] testing in the country,” says Morena Makhoana, CEO of The Biovac Institute. “Probably within the next 10 days we will get it released.”
Polio is a contagious viral disease that affects the central nervous system; in most severe cases, polio can result in paralysis, severe muscle pains, difficulty breathing and sometimes death.
Polio can occur at any age, but the disease mainly affects children under the age of five. Children are therefore at greatest risk of getting polio if they haven’t been immunized against the disease.
There is no cure for polio, but vaccines do exist.
There are two types of vaccines that protect people against polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). IPV is given as an injection in either the arm or the leg, depending on the patient’s age.
Most people receive the polio vaccines as children. Children get four doses of IPV at the ages of two months, four months, six-18 months and a booster dose at four to six years; children receive five doses of OPV at birth, six weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, nine months, 18 months, and at the age of five.
A person is considered to be fully immunized if he has received a primary series of at least three doses of IPV or OPV, or four doses of a combination of the two.
For the past few months, South Africa has been out of stock of OPV for children.
Read: Why polio is still around
Newcastle provincial hospital ran out of OPV in mid-April, and parents were advised to go to the nearest clinic to get the vaccine.
Fortunately polio is also in the combination vaccine that children also get when they get injected,” says Makhoana. “They are getting two forms of polio – oral and injection - [and the] injection is continuing to be supplied.”
The short supply of vaccines is not only a South African problem, but a worldwide problem. Outbreaks in Africa, Asia and the Middle East in 2014 alone have caused the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) to gather for the first time since 2009.
Read: Peshawhar in Pakistan is the world's largest reservoir of polio
For the past few months, the City of Cape Town and Cape Winelands District have circulated their available stock to other provincial facilities with stock shortages.
According to Biovac, more than three million doses of polio vaccines were not released two months ago due to the vaccine vial monitor being out of specification. However, the company asserts that they are doing everything they can to address the issue and to keep the vaccine in supply.
We are set up as a public-private partnership and our role is to continue a supply of the vaccine, in insuring that there is stock available,” says Makhoana. “Vaccines are something that are in few supply, there are only one or two suppliers. We attempt to hold, as best as we can, 3 months stock.”
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Sources: Polio Eradication, CDC, WHO