Background: Global efforts to eradicate wild polioviruses (WPVs) continue to face challenges due to uninterrupted endemic WPV transmission in three countries and importation-related outbreaks into previously polio-free countries. We explore the potential role of including older children and adults in supplemental immunization activities (SIAs) to more rapidly increase population immunity and prevent or stop transmission.
Methods: We use a differential equation-based dynamic poliovirus transmission model to analyze the epidemiological impact and vaccine resource implications of expanding target age groups in SIAs. We explore the use of older age groups in SIAs for three situations: alternative responses to the 2010 outbreak in Tajikistan, retrospective examination of elimination in two high-risk states in northern India, and prospective and retrospective strategies to accelerate elimination in endemic northwestern Nigeria. Our model recognizes the ability of individuals with waned mucosal immunity (i.e., immunity from a historical live poliovirus infection) to become re-infected and contribute to transmission to a limited extent.
Results: SIAs involving expanded age groups reduce overall caseloads, decrease transmission, and generally lead to a small reduction in the time to achieve WPV elimination. Analysis of preventive expanded age group SIAs in Tajikistan or prior to type-specific surges in incidence in high-risk areas of India and Nigeria showed the greatest potential benefits of expanded age groups. Analysis of expanded age group SIAs in outbreak situations or to accelerate the interruption of endemic transmission showed relatively less benefit, largely due to the circulation of WPV reaching individuals sooner or more effectively than the SIAs. The India and Nigeria results depend strongly on how well SIAs involving expanded age groups reach relatively isolated subpopulations that sustain clusters of susceptible children, which we assume play a key role in persistent endemic WPV transmission in these areas.
Conclusions: This study suggests the need to carefully consider the epidemiological situation in the context of decisions to use expanded age group SIAs. Subpopulations of susceptible individuals may independently sustain transmission, which will reduce the overall benefits associated with using expanded age group SIAs to increase population immunity to a sufficiently high level to stop transmission and reduce the incidence of paralytic cases.