NEW DELHI // An infant who contracted a rare form of polio through a vaccine died from the virus in Maharashtra state on Saturday.
The infant was the first reported case of polio in India in more than two years, although the last case reported – on January 13, 2011 – was not caused by a vaccine.
The death of the infant will not affect India's hard-won status as a polio-free country but experts said the government would have to boost campaigns across the country to prevent the spread of misinformation about the polio vaccine.
"People will understand if you are honest and tell them the facts because there is nothing to hide here. It is a rare case," said Naveen Thacker, a paediatrician on the Indian government's polio advisory group for the past 10 years.
Government and private campaigns to promote polio immunisation over the past 20 years have often encountered religious and cultural prejudices against vaccination, including notions that it may cause infertility.
"The government settles these cases very fast because it is aware of the problems that can crop up when rumours spread and affect the eradication drives," said Dr Thacker.
"We have to battle such news from time to time. As long as officers are up front about this case and spread the word of how it happened, it should be fine. There will be no back lash."
At a government hospital in the Beed district in Maharashtra, Rohit R Shelke, a 11-month-old boy, tested positive for the vaccine-derived polio virus (VDPV) on June 7, following paralysis of the limbs on May 4.
The child's immunity was lower than normal and instead of a month between doses, there was a gap of seven months between the two doses, said health officials quoted in the Hindustan Times newspaper.
The VDPV can only be transmitted through the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which contains a live but weakened virus.
The weakened virus circulates for a period of time in the body, building immunity. But a child with a compromised immunity does not have the strength to overcome the virus.
This form of polio occurs in one in 500,000 babies vaccinated worldwide, said T Jacob John, a paediatrician and a member of the World Health Organisation's committee on global polio eradication.
About 170 million children under the age of 5, who are most susceptible to the polio virus, are vaccinated with drops each year in India on national immunisation day.
The nation relies on the orally administered vaccine because it is inexpensive and easier to administer than the injectable version, which contains the inactive virus, Dr John said.
"But then, with OPV, there can be a case of vaccine-related paralysis," Dr John said. "The goal is to eradicate the wild [polio] virus. Right now, in India, we are at 60-62 per cent coverage of the vaccine.
"When we have complete coverage, we can think of more expensive methods."
The wild polio virus is primarily transmitted through the oral-faecal route, which means the virus hangs in the air and can be inhaled, mostly around unsanitary conditions and practices such as open sewers and defecation in open spaces.