What Happens if We Stop Using Oral Polio Vaccines?

As we occasionally hear reports of vaccine derived polio, it shouldn’t be surprising that anti-vaccine folks are calling for the end of all use of the oral polio vaccines that can trigger these cases.

Do you recognize the NVIC and ICAN? Think Barbara Loe Fisher and Del Bigtree... and ask them why they want to bring back polio.
Do you recognize the NVIC and ICAN? Think Barbara Loe Fisher and Del Bigtree… and ask them why they want to bring back polio.

Got any idea of what would happen if anyone listened to them?

What Happens if We Stop Using Oral Polio Vaccines?

Believe it or not, a plan is already in place to stop using oral polio vaccines.

So why haven’t we done it yet?

“In April 2016 a switch was implemented from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV in routine immunization programmes. Following WPV1 and WPV3 eradication, use of all OPV in routine immunizations will be stopped.”

OPV Cessation

It is obviously because we haven’t yet eradicated wild polio!

“The GPEI’s achievements are evident not just in the retreat of WPV to geographic corners of the world, but also in the successive elimination of WPV types. In 2015, WPV type 2 was declared eradicated; WPV type 3 has not been seen since 2012; and while WPV1 has yet to be interrupted, its incidence has been reduced by over 90% since 2014.”

Polio Endgame Strategy 2019–2023

We are very close though.

“In impoverished communities with substandard sanitation and living conditions, vaccine strain poliovirus can contaminate water sources used for bathing and drinking, which can lead to more cases of vaccine strain polio paralysis,” said Barbara Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center. “Until polio eradication campaigns stop using live oral polio vaccine, the vaccine strain polio virus will continue to cripple children and adults.”

Vaccination-wary groups call for halt of oral polio vaccine

But if we stopped using oral polio virus vaccines before polio was eradicated, we would simply start seeing more cases of wild polio. And they would be at much higher levels than the vaccine derived cases we are seeing now.

“While over 18 million people who would have been paralysed by polio are walking today as a result of the eradication programme, we have not yet reached zero – and our mission to reach every last child remains as urgent as ever. If we stop our efforts now, within ten years we could see as many as 200,000 new cases each year, all over the world. Simply put, children everywhere remain at risk until polio is eradicated.”

Polio Endgame Strategy 2019–2023

Is that what Barbara Loe Fisher is proposing?

The Endgame Plan 2013-2018 succeeded in certifying South-East Asia (SEARO) as polio-free, brought the African Region closer than ever to eradication of wild poliovirus,  possibly eradicated two out of three wild poliovirus strains, set the world on the path of phased Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) removal, stopped outbreaks in Syria and Horn of Africa, and cornered wild poliovirus circulation to a joint cross-border reservoir between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Endgame Plan 2013-2018 “succeeded in certifying South-East Asia (SEARO) as polio-free, brought the African Region closer than ever to eradication of wild poliovirus, possibly eradicated two out of three wild poliovirus strains, set the world on the path of phased Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) removal, stopped outbreaks in Syria and Horn of Africa, and cornered wild poliovirus circulation to a joint cross-border reservoir between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

What if instead of just stopping oral polio vaccinations, we went ahead and switched to IPV now, before wild virus interruption?

Would that be so bad?

Well yeah, it would, since IPV doesn’t stop the transmission of the polio virus.

IPV does prevent you from actually getting paralytic polio, but not from getting a polio infection and spreading it to others. So if we switched to IPV now, we would never actually eradicate polio.

OPV, on the other hand, prevents both paralytic polio and the spread of infection. Unfortunately, it can also rarely mutate and cause paralytic polio. And when vaccination rates are low, these mutant strains can even cause outbreaks.

Why do the outbreaks of mutant strains of polio only happen when vaccination rates are low? Because in addition to preventing infection from wild strains, the polio vaccines can prevent paralytic polio that is caused by the mutant strains!

But why use a vaccine that can mutate like that? It’s simple. The risk of wild polio is so much greater before OPV gets wild polio virus strains under control.

Don’t Spoil the Polio Endgame

There have been some hiccups, but we are very close to eradicating polio.

“In 1988, when the World Health Assembly declared its commitment to eradication and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was formed in pursuit of this goal, there were 350 000 annual cases of WPV in 125 countries. By the end 2018, only 33 cases were identified – all from two neighbouring countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan).”

Polio Endgame Strategy 2019–2023

And while there are plenty of challenges ahead, including:

  • Ongoing conflicts in the last remaining polio-affected regions.
  • Weak or fragile health systems and extreme poverty in both endemic and non-endemic countries.

Let’s not add to those challenges and let anti-vaccine folks bring back polio.

“The medical establishment repeatedly claims that the science regarding vaccines is settled,” said Del Bigtree, CEO and founder of Informed Consent Action Network, adding that the outbreak of vaccine-derived cases “highlights the danger of eliminating the human and civil right of informed consent with regard to vaccines — a right available for all other medical products and procedures.”

Vaccination-wary groups call for halt of oral polio vaccine

Let’s not let them scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, which would lead to even more cases of both wild polio and vaccine derived polio.

More on the Polio Endgame

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