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[MANILA] The Philippines has adopted inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) for mass immunisation of infants, the first developing country in East Asia to adopt it placing it along with a number of industrialised countries that use it to ensure its polio-free status.

“Every newborn in the Philippines will now receive IPV,” Enrique Ona,  health secretary, said during the ceremonial kick-off of the countrywide vaccination drive on 6 October in Parañaque City where dozens of newborns were administered with IPV.

The Philippines has a very good record of child immunisation and has been certified polio-free since 2000. However, at the moment, every Filipino child receives the oral polio vaccine (OPV), the other type of polio vaccine that consists of live, attenuated (weakened) polio virus strains of all three polio virus types.

IPV, also called the Salk vaccine after its developer Jonas Salk, is administered by injection and consists of inactivated or killed polio virus strains that provide serum immunity to all three types of polio virus, resulting in protection against poliomyelitis, a highly transmissible disease that leads to paralysis or death

Most industrialised countries now use IPV as the vaccine of choice because the risk of polio associated with OPV is deemed greater.

Mark Anthony Montes, a medical specialist at the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) explains that since OPV is given through oral drops, it goes through the digestive system. This route he said could diminish the vaccine’s effectiveness because of the acids present in the stomach aside.

“In very rare occasions, the weakened form of poliovirus in OPV can revert to a paralytic form and regain the ability to spread,” says Alain Bernal, Sanofi Pasteur vice-president for communications.

During the launch, DOH undersecretary Janette Garin said the Philippines will introduce IPV in routine immunisation following recommendations made by the WHO in 2014 for the gradual phasing out of OPV. The WHO intends to reach the goal of global polio eradication by 2018.

Garin said the Philippines decided to buy IPV with its own national health budget rather than rely on foreign donations like it did before (from 1976 to 1992). The DOH will purchase its IPV supply from Sanofi Pasteur, the world’s largest vaccine company.

Michael Watson, Sanofi Pasteur vice-president for vaccination policy and advocacy, tells SciDev.Net that financial contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International had allowed countries such as the Philippines to purchase the vaccines at a lower price.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.