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BACKGROUND: Oral poliovirus vaccine is less immunogenic and effective in low-income countries than in high-income countries, similarly to other oral vaccines. The high prevalence of intestinal pathogens and associated environmental enteropathy has been proposed to explain this problem. Because administration of an antibiotic has the potential to resolve environmental enteropathy and clear bacterial pathogens, we aimed to assess whether antibiotics would improve oral poliovirus vaccine immunogenicity. METHODS: We did a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of the effect of azithromycin on the immunogenicity of serotype-3 monovalent oral poliovirus vaccine given to healthy infants living in 14 blocks of Vellore district, India. Infants were eligible to participate if they were 6-11 months old, available for the study duration, and lacked serum neutralising antibodies to serotype-3 poliovirus. Infants were randomly assigned (1:1) at enrolment to receive oral 10 mg/kg azithromycin or placebo once daily for 3 days, followed by serotype-3 monovalent oral poliovirus vaccine on day 14. The primary outcome was detection of serum neutralising antibodies to serotype-3 poliovirus at a dilution of one in eight or more on day 35 and was assessed in the per-protocol population (ie, all those who received azithromycin or placebo, oral poliovirus vaccine, and provided a blood sample according to the study protocol). Safety outcomes were assessed in all infants enrolled in the study. The trial is registered with the Clinical Trials Registry India, number CTRI/2014/05/004588. FINDINGS: Between Aug 5, 2014, and March 21, 2015, 754 infants were randomly assigned: 376 to receive azithromycin and 378 to placebo. Of these, 348 (93%) of 376 in the azithromycin group and 357 (94%) of 378 infants in the placebo group completed the study per protocol. In the azithromycin group, 175 (50%) seroconverted to serotype-3 poliovirus compared with 192 (54%) in the placebo group (risk ratio 0·94, 95% CI 0·81-1·08; p=0·366). Azithromycin reduced faecal biomarkers of environmental enteropathy (calprotectin, myeloperoxidase, α1-antitrypsin) and the prevalence of bacterial but not viral or eukaryotic pathogens. Viral pathogens were associated with lower seroconversion. Three serious adverse events were reported (two in the azithromycin group and one in the placebo group), but none was considered related to the study interventions. INTERPRETATION: Azithromycin did not improve the immunogenicity of oral poliovirus vaccine despite reducing biomarkers of environmental enteropathy and the prevalence of pathogenic intestinal bacteria. Viral interference and innate antiviral immune mechanisms might be more important determinants of the immunogenicity of live-virus oral vaccines. FUNDING: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Infect Dis

Publication Date





905 - 914


Anti-Bacterial Agents, Antibodies, Viral, Azithromycin, Double-Blind Method, Humans, Immunization Schedule, Immunogenicity, Vaccine, India, Infant, Poliomyelitis, Poliovirus, Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral, Vaccination