UAntwerp supporting efforts to eradicate polio

Date: 13 April 2017

Introduction: The Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccinations (UAntwerp) will test a new oral polio vaccine on 15 volunteers.

Containerdorp polio-onderzoekA ‘container village’ is currently being constructed between UZA and the Drie Eiken Care Hotel in Edegem. In May 2017, the Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccinations (UAntwerp) will begin using the 66 containers to host two groups of 15 volunteers to test a new oral polio vaccine

Globally, the world saw the fewest number of children ever paralyzed by poliovirus last year, with the virus restricted to a few areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. As the global polio program nears eradication, measures are being taken to ensure the world both achieves polio eradication and takes the necessary steps to keep it polio-free.

“To support these efforts, a consortium of researchers have developed new candidate vaccines,” explains Prof. Pierre Van Damme (UAntwerp). “In extremely rare cases, the live, weakened virus originally contained in the oral polio vaccine used today can mutate and spread in under-immunized populations, and on rare occasions causes paralysis through circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPV). The candidate vaccine is not expected to carry this same risk of mutation. It needs to be tested in a number of phases, and that’s what we’ll be doing here in Antwerp.”

In quarantine

The most complex phase will soon be beginning: two groups of 15 volunteers will spend up to 28 days in quarantine while the new oral vaccine is tested.

Van Damme: “It’s a live, attenuated (weakened) oral vaccine. While there is no risk for the volunteers, as the world approaches global eradication, the World Health Organization has updated its guidelines for containing the poliovirus. To ensure there is absolutely no attenuated virus that leaves the quarantined environment – for example, through the stools in the sewage system – volunteers will need to stay in a closed unit for a while.”

And that’s why the University of Antwerp began looking for a suitable location to build the container village. They found it in the car park of the Drie Eiken Care Hotel, on the UZA site in Edegem. The 66 units arrived from the Czech Republic on April 3 and 4, ready for the start of the first trial period on May 8.

UAntwerp is now in the process of selecting volunteers. Van Damme: “They must be residents of countries in which children used to receive what’s known as an inactivated polio vaccine. Belgians are not eligible because the country did not start using inactivated polio vaccine until the year 2000, but people from the Netherlands are eligible, for example.”

This new University of Antwerp study is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as part of their drive to eradicate polio.