Why Do Anti-Vax Folks Get Excited About Polio Outbreaks?

At least two things happen whenever we hear about a new polio outbreak. And yes, I said polio outbreak.

One is that many people assume it is wild polio and that we are moving further away from finally eradicating polio.

Hopefully folks understand that polio outbreaks wouldn't just stop if we stopped vaccinating...
Hopefully folks understand that polio outbreaks wouldn’t just stop if we stopped vaccinating…

And the other?

Anti-vax folks assume that it is an outbreak of vaccine strain polio and very wrongly use this as a reason to try and scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The polio outbreak in the Philippines is confirmed to be from a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. This is of particular concern, as wild poliovirus type 2 was certified as globally eradicated in 2015. Poorly conducted immunization activities, when too few children have received the required three doses of polio vaccine, leave them susceptible to poliovirus, either from vaccine-derived or wild polioviruses. Full immunization protects them from both forms of the virus.”

WHO, UNICEF and partners support Philippine Department of Health’s polio outbreak response

As expected, that’s the response we are seeing from anti-vax folks to news of the latest outbreak of polio in the Philippines.

Why Do Anti-Vax Folks Get Excited About Polio Outbreaks?

But isn’t bad that the polio vaccine can actually cause outbreaks?

Of course!

No one wants people to get sick after getting vaccinated. And that’s why we are moving towards stopping the use of the oral polio vaccine that causes vaccine derived polio.

It is also very important to consider the alternative. A lot more people getting wild polio!

“As recently as 30 years ago, wild poliovirus paralysed more than 350,000 children in more than 125 countries every year. In 2018 there were fewer than 30 reported cases in just two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Zero polio transmission and health for all”, WHO Director-General gives new year’s wish to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan

We also need to remember the reason we typically see outbreaks of vaccine strain polio. It is because vaccination rates have dropped in an area!

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right. The polio vaccine, in addition to protecting you from wild polio can prevent you from getting the vaccine strain polio too.

But isn’t the polio vaccine causing many more cases of polio than the actual polio virus?

Bob Sears recently shared an article that was two years old about mutant strains of polio causing outbreaks

It once was, but that’s simply because we are getting very close to eradicating polio and there were fewer cases of wild polio!

While there were far more cases of vaccine derived polio than wild polio last year, there were more cases of wild polio earlier in 2019 and it is now about even.

Tragically, we are starting to see more and more cases of wild polio.

Science event in Washington, D.C. reminding folks that Vaccines Work.
Pediatricians at the March for Science event in Washington, D.C. reminding folks that Vaccines Work.

Still, we are no where near the numbers of cases of polio and kids getting paralyzed when polio was epidemic in most countries.

And the outbreaks of vaccine derived polio?

They demonstrate what happens when we don’t keep up our immunization rates. And how anti-vax folks either don’t understand or intentionally try to misinform parents about how vaccines work.

More on Polio Outbreaks

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