A child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Durban - Hospitals are running out of orally administered polio vaccines because of a worldwide shortage.

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, said the national department had been alerted by Biovac, its sole supplier, that there was a problem internationally.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines polio as a condition that could cause paralysis in a matter of hours, normally in the legs. Patients could die if their breathing muscles become immobilised.

Mkhwanazi was responding to a report that the Newcastle Provincial Hospital had run out of the vaccine and had been turning away parents with their newborn babies.

He said the KZN Department of Health would conduct a catch-up campaign to trace mothers and babies who may have been turned away and “ensure the necessary polio vaccine is given”.

Morena Makhoana, chief executive of the Biovac Institute, a partnership between the government and a Biovac consortium to supply vaccines, confirmed that the shortage of polio vaccine was a worldwide problem.

He said his institute had been experiencing a shortage for a month.

Makhoana said recommendations by the WHO to countries to launch polio vaccination campaigns had put vaccine manufacturers under strain, “and there is supply pressure at the moment”.

Makhoana said Biovac’s supplier, a multinational drug company based in France, had been unable to meet demand.

“There are vaccines within the country and they should be released within the next 10 days,” Makhoana said.

The shortage of orally administered vaccines (polio drops) was likely to continue for the rest of this year and next year, Makhoana said.

But he said the effect on South Africans would be minimal because people could still get vaccinated with injections.

An employee at the Newcastle Provincial Hospital, who cannot be named because she is not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed they had been short of the polio vaccines since last month.

“The item comes from the central provincial stores.

“They could not supply us with it.

“If you order 12 items per requisition, you are lucky to receive two to four items from that order,” she said.

Daily News