April 25 is the switch day from trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine for Bhutan

Health: The health ministry will be switching from trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine from today as part of the polio endgame strategic plan 2013-2018.

Health ministry officials said the switch will take place as a nationwide event. Along with Bhutan, 156 countries will also switch to bivalent oral polio vaccine within this month.

“It’s a global event and the switch is done in April as polio virus transmission is considered to be low around this time,” programme officer Tshewang Tamang said.

He added that the trivalent oral polio vaccine consists of type I, II and III virus while the bivalent consists of type I and III virus.

“Type II virus was eliminated since 1999 but we continued to provide the trivalent vaccine,” he said, explaining why the switch to the bivalent vaccine.

Health officials said the oral polio vaccine is provided at birth, in six, 10 and 14 weeks to infants as part of the regular immunisation programme.

According to health officials, polio is a serious disease that cripples the life of the affected person. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis usually in the legs.

Among those paralysed, five to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become paralysed. There is no cure for polio but it can only be prevented by polio vaccination. The number of polio cases has reduced globally by more than 99 percent over the last two decades.

Bhutan launched the expanded programme on immunisation in 1979 and achieved universal childhood immunisation in 1991. The last case of clinically compatible polio was reported in 1986. Since then no polio cases were reported.

Bhutan received polio-free certification from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014. Although the country had managed to eradicate polio some 30 years ago, Bhutan had to wait until India achieved polio-free status as Bhutan could import the disease from India and the neigbouring countries.

Along with Bhutan, India was also certified polio free in March 2014. India reported the last polio case in 2011. The entire Southeast Asia region of WHO is closer to achieving polio-free certification.

Health officials said that Bhutan conducted national immunisation days in 1995 and sub-national immunisation days from 1996-2002 in high-risk districts. Polio immunisation coverage in Bhutan stands at 99 percent. in 1996, Bhutan initiated acute flaccid paralysis surveillance, the core strategy to detect the transmission of wild poliovirus and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus.

In line with the global polio endgame strategic plan 2013-2018; health officials said April 25 is the switch day from trivalent oral polio vaccine to bivalent oral polio vaccine for Bhutan. The existing polio surveillance and high immunisation coverage would be maintained until polio is globally eradicated.

Kinga Dema