Polio currently only occurs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. While this disease can be eradicated, a new vaccine, that is currently being tested at the University of Antwerp, is needed for this final step in its eradication.
In 2016, 34 cases of polio or paediatric paralysis were registered around the world. By 2017, this had dropped to just 17. “While we are edging closer to eradication, we are not quite there yet”, says Professor Pierre Van Damme, the head of the Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccinations (University of Antwerp). “Unfortunately, the current oral vaccine, which is used on a large scale in developing countries, causes polio in one out of every 2.5 million vaccinations.”
A new oral vaccine is needed to finally eradicate this disease. An international consortium developed two new “live” vaccines, which were tested extensively in Antwerp in 2017, with the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first phase of this study turned into a unique experiment.
“We built a container village, called Poliopolis, where two groups of fifteen volunteers spent about a month in quarantine”, Van Damme recalls. “The participants were all Dutch. Belgian volunteers were not eligible because they had received the existing live vaccine as a child. Our research group has over thirty years of experience in the field of vaccine studies, but that didn’t make this experience any less unique.”
Everything went without a hitch. If the government gives the green light, the study will be conducted among 300 Dutch and Belgian volunteers in 2018, who will not be required to remain in quarantine. In 2019, the study will be extended to children and infants. By 2020, the vaccine should be available to contain epidemics of mutant vaccine viruses. A video about the project can be found here
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