THE UTTAR Pradesh government may claim that defective oral polio vaccines are responsible for the spurt in polio cases in in the state, but that's an argument that won't hold.
The Central Research Institute (CRI) in Kasauli, one of India's best laboratories, has given the vaccines a certificate of safety and effectiveness. All the 468 batches of oral polio vaccines tested there in 2006 were found to be "100 per cent satisfactory".
The CRI functions as a central drugs laboratory for testing vaccines and sera under the Drugs and Cosmetic Act.
Scientists at its hi-tech Polio Vaccine Testing Laboratory test samples from all batches of polio vaccines before they are sent to the states.
These vaccines are tested for sterility, identity, cold-chain monitoring and viral concentration.
"There is no question of the vaccine being of poor quality. We use vaccines only from World Health Organisation’s (WHO) international and national suppliers.
Samples from all the batches are sent to Kasauli for testing.They are moved to the states or districts only after they are declared safe for use," says a health commissioner working with the polio programme.
Because of recent concerns about the vaccine's potency, samples from 27 batches from the western Uttar Pradesh districts of Moradabad, Sitapur and Hardoi were tested in May and June this year. All were found to be "100 per cent satisfactory".
Samples from the field are picked up to determine whether the cold chain - the temperature within which the vaccine maintains its potency or effectiveness - is maintained.
"There have been no instances of breaking the cold chain. The vaccine vial monitor makes it impossible for the vaccine provider to miss knowing when a vaccine has gone bad," said the health commissioner.
The vial monitor turns from white to brown when the vaccine is exposed to high temperatures. Vaccinators are trained to discard it when the colour changes.
The WHO maintains that vial monitoring is enough to determine the potency of the vaccines, but field samples were picked up to put rumours of the vaccine's inefficacy to rest.