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ABSTRACT

The World Health Organisation's programme for the eradication of poliomyelitis as currently practised in India raises many ethical issues. In this paper we concentrate on just two. The first is the balance to be struck between the risks and benefits generated by the eradication programme itself. The issue of risks and benefits arises in relation to the choice between two different vaccine types available for polio programmes: oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). OPV is the vaccine currently used in the eradication campaign in India. We argue that given the current risks/benefits profile of this vaccine, there is an urgent need to review the programme and take remedial action to address existing problems (at least in India). The second issue we discuss is the fact that there is little effort to gain the informed consent of the parents of vaccinated children, as they are not currently told about the potential limitations of OPV or the possibility of vaccine-induced harm. We suggest that such a policy might be justifiable, given the importance of polio eradication, but only if there is a system of compensation for vaccine-induced harm as part of the eradication programme itself. There is a real danger that if these issues are not addressed then public trust in the eradication programme and vaccination programmes as a whole will be lost.