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Doctors Urge Cholera Vaccine For Haiti, Neighbors

Leading public health officials and researchers are calling for a crash vaccination campaign against cholera in Haiti and neighboring countries.

A vaccine is needed, they say, to control what researchers say is a more lethal strain of cholera circulating widely in Haiti and starting to affect the Dominican Republic.

Until now, experts felt that there wasn't enough vaccine to be effective and that a vaccination campaign would distract from efforts to treat the thousands with the disease.

But a consensus is emerging around the idea that the vaccine is urgently needed.

One factor behind the shift: The Pan American Health Organization has discovered far more vaccine is out there than previously thought.

Dr. John Andrus, deputy director of PAHO, tells NPR that there may be more than 1 million doses in manufacturers' storehouses.

"That's new information to us and that basically changes our thinking," Andrus says.

Cholera has infected at least 100,000 people in Haiti over the past seven weeks and killed more than 2,100. But that's only a fraction of what health officials predict in coming months.

About two dozen cases of cholera have been confirmed in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Some 208 more cases are under investigation. They are in the rural border area and in urban Santo Domingo, an ominous indication that cholera is already widely dispersed in the Dominican Republic.

Both countries should be considered for a vaccination campaign, Andrus says. But he wouldn't limit it to Hispaniola.

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