China's top drug authority has licensed a new domestically grown vaccine to protect children from polio, and it will be introduced into the country's vaccination schedule this year, according to the China Food and Drug Administration.
Under the national vaccination programme, newborns－an estimated 16 million each year－are required to get oral polio vaccine, or OPV, which, in extremely rare cases, can cause paralytic polio in a recipient because it contains a weakened but still live virus.
About one in every 1 million children who take the vaccine develop that side effect, experts said.
The new vaccine, marketed under the brand name Ai Bi Wei, is manufactured by the Institute of Medical Biology of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Kunming, Yunnan province.
It is inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine, or IPV, and thus poses no risk of vaccine-associated paralytic polio, according to Lance Rodewald, team leader of the WHO China Office Expanded Program on Immunization.
Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO representative in China, said, "This new vaccine is a critically important weapon in the fight against polio as the world nears the eradication of this dreaded disease."
Polio is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It invades the nervous system and can cause lifelong paralysis, or even death. Although there is no cure for polio, it can be prevented through timely vaccination of children.
The WHO has recommended that every country start using at least one dose of IPV in their routine vaccination schedule by the end of 2015.
Chinese children will receive IPV followed by OPV, because when used together, the two vaccines provide optimal protection from all forms of paralytic polio and poliovirus infection, Schwartlander said.
Global experience has shown IPV to be safe and effective and "eventually all use of OPV will be ended in China and the world", Rodewald said. "However, there will be a few years in which both IPV and OPV are likely to be used together."
Schwartlander said Kunming's new IPV is the product of nearly two decades of vaccine development and testing, with oversight and review by the CFDA.
Licensing by the CFDA ensures that the vaccine has been thoroughly inspected and tested, and that it meets national standards for quality, safety and efficacy.
"Chinese production of quality IPV is a breakthrough in the fight to sustain China's polio-free status and to eradicate polio from the world," Schwartlander said.