The news that the country’s health system has run out of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) is deeply worrying. In fact, we had run out of the vaccine since the beginning of this year.
We are told that there is a global manufacturing shortage of the vaccine. Little can be done about it because we are not a nation that produces modern pharmaceutical products. But polio is a disease that leaves a person invalid for a lifetime. Every human life is a wealth upon itself and the nation it belongs to.
Naturally so, parents are worried. Health officials say that the country will get its stock of IPV on August 4, which is expected to last for about six months at the max. And the new stock is expected to arrive only by December next year. So the shortage will continue for additional nine months.
How many children will be born in nine month’s time? And how many children were born in the last seven months that did not get the vaccine? Polio is a serious disease that cripples the life of a person. It can lead to irreversible paralysis in the limbs. Death could also occur. There is no cure for polio; it can only be prevented by vaccination.
What is more worrying is the kind of information that we are getting from the health officials. Some say that the vaccine should have been administered completely by the 14th week after birth. As part of the regular immunisation programme, polio vaccination is provided at birth and at sixth, 10th and 14th weeks after birth. Others are of the view that administration of the vaccine could be delayed.
Who do we believe? Can we afford to wait until the vaccine comes? Will that guarantee that our children can be free of the crippling disease?
Bhutan launched the expanded programme on immunisation in 1979 and achieved universal childhood immunisation in 1991. According to health records, the last case of clinically compatible polio was reported in 1986. Since then, no polio cases were reported. We may be a low-risk country, but we cannot be complacent.
What alternatives do we have, though? The best we could do is to not confuse the people by giving out varying information about the vaccine and the immunisation processes. If the World Health Organisation has to prequalify the vaccine, it may be time the health systems of the world came together and urged the world body to do so urgently. Delay any longer and this could be vastly expensive for a small nation like ours.