Tag: eradicated diseases

Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

It’s true, polio has been eliminated in the United States.

Are these folks serious with this anti-vaccine nonsense?
Are these folks serious with this anti-vaccine nonsense?

But that doesn’t mean that we can stop vaccinating kids against polio yet.

Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

For one thing, the last polio case in the United States was a lot more recent than 40 years ago.

What happened 40 years ago?

That was when we had the last endemic case of polio in the United States, in 1979. After that, in addition to cases of VAPP, there were at least 6 cases of imported paralytic poliomyelitis. In fact, the last case of wild polio in the United States was in 1993, just 26 years ago.

And just ten years ago, in 2009, was the very last case of VAPP, a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s, even though she didn’t develop paralysis until years later.

But still, why couldn’t we stop vaccinating against polio in the United States, even though polio isn’t eradicated yet? After all, we stopped using the smallpox vaccine in 1972, before smallpox was declared eradicated (1980).

While that is true, smallpox isn’t as contagious as polio and there hadn’t been a case of smallpox in the United States for over 30 years when we stopped using the vaccine.

Until wild polio is eradicated and the oral polio vaccine isn’t used anymore (OPV switch), we must continue to vaccinate against polio to prevent new outbreaks.

That is the polio eradication and endgame strategic plan.

Over the next few years, the world will hopefully switch to using just the injectable form of the polio vaccines, which eliminates the risk of VAPP.

But if we are so close, why not just stop vaccinating in those parts of the world that don’t have polio?

Because we are so close to eradicating polio.

Why take the risk of polio spreading from one of the remaining endemic countries, paralyzing kids, and putting eradication efforts further behind?

Should we stop vaccinating kids because anti-vaccine folks are pushing misinformation about DDT, renamed diseases, or vaccine induced diseases?

Of course not!

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

Let’s continue the work and eradicate polio, once and for all!

And for the record – we don’t pump “kids full of polio” when we give them a polio vaccine. The polio shot is an inactivated vaccine, so doesn’t contain live polio virus.

More on Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Routine vaccination with smallpox vaccines ended in the US in 1972, a short time before smallpox was declared eradicated (1980).

Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?
Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?

It was also before the last case of wild smallpox was found (1977).

Why?

Because smallpox had been declared eliminated in North America long before (1952), following the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States (1949).

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Although smallpox has been eradicated, some folks still worry about it.

“There are now only two locations where variola virus is officially stored and handled under WHO supervision: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Koltsovo, Russia.”

CDC on History of Smallpox

Of course, the concern now is not naturally occurring smallpox, but instead bioterrorism.

Could the smallpox virus be made into a weapon to be used in a bioterrorist attack?

We hope not, but if it was, none of us would be immune, not even the folks who were vaccinated long ago. The smallpox vaccine doesn’t provide life-long immunity.

So should you be worried?

“Some people have been vaccinated through the military or because they were part of Smallpox Response Teams that were formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

CDC on Why is Smallpox a Concern?

Almost certainly not.

Plans are in place if there ever was a smallpox attack and if necessary, there is actually enough smallpox vaccine stockpiled to vaccinate everyone in the United States!

More on Smallpox Worries

Are the Risks Greater Than the Benefits for Any Vaccines?

The only reason some folks question the risk-benefit ratio of vaccines is because most of them have never had or even known anyone with a vaccine-preventable disease.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Of course, that’s simply because most people are vaccinated and protected. But if enough folks decide to skip or delay their vaccines, then we will have outbreaks and a higher risk of getting sick.

We shouldn’t have to wait for outbreaks for anyone to understand that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks though.

Are the Risks Greater Than the Benefits for Any Vaccines?

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

Unless you have a true contraindication to getting vaccinated, until a disease is eradicated, the benefits of a vaccine will typically be far greater than its risks.

The switch from the live, oral polio vaccine to the inactivated vaccine is a good example of when this wasn’t the case though. Since OPV could rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP), once polio was well controlled in the United States, the risk of this side effect became greater than the benefit of continuing to use the vaccine, but only because we had an alternative polio vaccine that didn’t cause VAPP.

Similarly, the original rotavirus vaccine was withdrawn because the extra risk of intussusception, even though it was small, was thought to be greater than the benefits of the vaccine.

In the great majority of cases though, to think that getting vaccinated is a bigger risk than getting a vaccine preventable disease, you have to buy into the anti-vaccine hype:

Of course, none of that is true. These, and other anti-vaccine talking points have been refuted time after time.

Don’t put your kids at risk.

Don’t put others at risk from your unvaccinated child.

Get them vaccinated and protected.

More on Risks and Benefits of Vaccines

What Is a Vaccine?

You know what a vaccine is, right?

The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.
The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.

The flu shot you get each year is a vaccine.

Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

Immunization: The Basics

The smallpox shot that Edward Jenner developed was a vaccine.

Vaccine Definitions

While that is an easy enough definition to understand, that there are many different types of vaccines does make it a little more complicated.

There are:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines – made from a weakened or attenuated form of a virus or bacteria
  • Inactivated vaccines – made from a killed form of virus or bacteria
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines – made from only specific pieces of a virus or bacteria
  • Toxoid vaccines – made to target a toxin that a bacteria makes and not the bacteria itself

And of course all of these types of vaccines work to produce immunity to specific diseases – vaccination.

Immunization: A process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination. This term is often used interchangeably with vaccination or inoculation.

Immunization: The Basics

What other definitions are important to know when you talk about vaccines?

  • active immunity – immunity that you get from having a disease (natural immunity) or getting a vaccine and making antibodies
  • adjuvant – a substance that helps boost your body’s immune response to a vaccine so that you can use a minimum amount of antigen, reducing side effects
  • antibodies – protective proteins that you make against antigens
  • antigens – specific substances (can be part of a virus or bacteria) that trigger an immune response
  • attenuation – a virus or bacteria that is made less potent, so that it can produce an immune response without causing disease
  • elimination – getting rid of a disease in a specific area
  • endemic – the baseline level of disease in an area
  • eradication – getting rid of a disease everywhere (smallpox)
  • epidemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a large geographic area
  • herd immunity – when enough people in a community are protected and have immunity, so that disease is unlikely to spread
  • immunity – protection against a disease
  • incubation period – how long it takes to develop symptoms after you are exposed to a disease
  • outbreak – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a small geographic area
  • pandemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over several countries or continents
  • passive immunity – temporary immunity that you get after being given antibodies, either via a shot of immunoglobulin or a mother’s antibodies are transferred to her baby through her placenta
  • placebo – classically defined as “a comparator in a vaccine trial that does not include the antigen under study”
  • quarantine – isolating someone so that they don’t get others sick
  • titer – an antibody count that can often be used to predict immunity

Got all of that?

So what about variolation, the process that was used before Jenner developed his smallpox vaccine? Was that also a vaccine?

It did produce immunity to smallpox, which is the basic definition of a vaccine, but still, variolation is typically concerned an immunization technique and not a vaccine.

More on Vaccine Definitions

Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

Anti-vaccine folks, in addition to trying to argue that vaccines are full of poison, typically try to make a case that vaccines aren’t even necessary.

Why not?

They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn't yet have was a polio vaccine.
They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn’t yet have was a polio vaccine. If the wide use of indoor plumbing got rid of the plague in the early 1900s, why didn’t it get rid of all other infectious diseases at the same time?

Because, they claim, vaccines don’t even work. They claim that it was better hygiene and sanitation, not vaccines that helped get rid of smallpox, polio, and measles.

Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

On the surface, the idea that better hygiene and sanitation helped get rid disease makes a lot of sense.

“The 19th century shift in population from country to city that accompanied industrialization and immigration led to overcrowding in poor housing served by inadequate or nonexistent public water supplies and waste-disposal systems. These conditions resulted in repeated outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, TB, typhoid fever, influenza, yellow fever, and malaria.

By 1900, however, the incidence of many of these diseases had begun to decline because of public health improvements, implementation of which continued into the 20th century. Local, state, and federal efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene reinforced the concept of collective “public health” action (e.g., to prevent infection by providing clean drinking water).”

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases

It makes a lot of sense because better hygiene and sanitation did actually help control and eliminate many infectious diseases, including cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever.

Others, like yellow fever and malaria, decreased because the mosquitoes that spread them were brought under control.

“Strategic vaccination campaigns have virtually eliminated diseases that previously were common in the United States, including diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis.”

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases

That still left a lot of work for vaccines.

After all, we had good hygiene and sanitation in the United States when kids were routinely dying of polio, measles, Hib meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis, and rotavirus, etc.

Any way, if better hygiene and sanitation can get rid of so many diseases, why has each vaccine-preventable disease been controlled at a different time – yellow fever (1905), polio (1979), smallpox (1980), measles (2000), neonatal tetanus (2000), congenital rubella syndrome (2004), respiratory diphtheria (2009)?

What about the infectious diseases which don’t have vaccines? Why hasn’t better hygiene and sanitation helped control those diseases yet, like RSV, norovirus, Ebola, and Zika, etc.?

“Perhaps the best evidence that vaccines, and not hygiene and nutrition, are responsible for the sharp drop in disease and death rates is chickenpox. If hygiene and nutrition alone were enough to prevent infectious diseases, chickenpox rates would have dropped long before the introduction of the varicella vaccine, which was not available until the mid-1990s. Instead, the number of chickenpox cases in the United States in the early 1990s, before the vaccine was introduced in 1995, was about four million a year. By 2004, the disease incidence had dropped by about 85%.”

Misconceptions about Vaccines

And why does better hygiene and sanitation only work for chicken pox in countries that routinely use the chicken pox vaccine?

Do you want to believe that vaccines don’t work to justify skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines and leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected?

Be more skeptical, learn more about vaccines, and make the right choice to get your kids vaccinated.

More on the Hygiene and Sanitation Anti-Vaccine Theory

Milestones Towards the Eradication of Polio

There is a lot more interest in polio these days, but not because we are close to eradicating this deadly disease, but rather because of the emergence of cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

Although the cases have a different cause, the symptoms of AFM are the same that we used to see during the outbreaks of polio that used to hit each summer in the pre-vaccine era.

Polio

Surprisingly, in most people, the poliovirus doesn’t actually cause any symptoms. They simply have an asymptomatic infection.

In some others, the poliovirus causes flu-like symptoms, including a fever, sore throat, nausea, and a headache – symptoms that last about 3 to 5 days.

Much more rarely, the poliovirus causes meningitis or paralysis.

It is these cases of paralytic polio that most people are aware of and that panicked parents during summers in the 1940s and 50s.

In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy.
In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

After having flu-like symptoms, those kids who would develop paralytic polio can develop pain and then flaccid paralysis.

“The most severe form, paralytic poliomyelitis, which is seen in less than 1% of patients, presents as excruciating episodes of pain in back and lower limbs. In children, the disease may present in biphasic form—a period of prodrome followed by a brief symptom-free period of 7 to 10 days and then appearance of asymmetrical paralysis of limbs. Flaccid paralysis is the hallmark with loss of deep tendon reflexes eventually.”

Mehndirattta et al on Poliomyelitis Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication

Of course, polio wasn’t always called polio.

Other names have included infantile spinal paralysis, infantile paralysis, Heine-Medin disease, poliomyelitis anterior acuta, and acute anterior poliomyelitis.

The first use of the name “polio” came from Adolph Kussmaul, with his use of the term poliomyelitis anterior acuta, which was derived from the Greek polios “grey” and myelos “marrow” and itis “inflammation.” It was because he knew that it was caused by inflammation of the spinal cord gray matter, even if he didn’t know why.

Polio History

Polio didn’t just suddenly appear in the middle of the 20th century though, it was likely around for ages.

That this Ancient Egyptian priest's leg is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk suggests that he could have had polio.
That one of this Ancient Egyptian priest’s legs is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk could suggest that he had polio.

In addition to an Egyptian funeral stele (a stone slab used as a monument) portraying Roma the Doorkeeper from 1500 BCE that suggests he had paralytic polio, archeologists have found evidence of polio in skeletons as far back as the Neolithic period.

A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.
A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.

Still, we don’t really know how long polio has been around and we don’t know why we began to see more cases in the mid-20th Century, although there are theories, including, ironically, about hygiene. While we often credit improved sanitation and hygiene for helping to reduce mortality from many diseases, some think that this actually set us up for polio outbreaks, as we were no longer exposed as infants, when we still had some maternal immunity.

The one thing that we do know is that we are on the verge of eradicating polio, as there are very cases now, in just a few countries.

Polio Timeline and Milestones

In addition to the more ancient discoveries about polio, there is a lot to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases if we look at the major milestones of this important disease.

Although in the end it is a success story, the road to figuring out what caused polio symptoms and how polio could be prevented was very long.

  • Michael Underwood describes what is thought to be paralytic polio in his book A Treatise on the Diseases of Children, with General Directions for the Management of Infants from Birth  in a section on “Debility of the Lower Extremities” (1789)
  • first reported outbreak of polio in Worksop, England (1835)
  • Jacob von Heine, head of an orthopedic hospital in Germany, publishes a monograph that describes 29 cases of paralytic polio, and actually attributes the condition to inflammation of the anterior horns of the spinal cord, although the cause was still not known (1840)
  • first use of the term poliomyelitis by Adolph Kussmaul (1874)
  • Nils August Bergenholtz reports on an outbreak of paralytic polio in Sweden (1881)
  • Karl-Oskar Medin, a pediatrician who reported on a polio epidemic in Sweden (1887), later presents his findings at the Tenth International Conference in Berlin (1890)
  • the first major outbreak in the United States is documented in Rutland County, Vermont and causes 132 cases of paralysis and 18 deaths (1894)
  • Ivar Wickman tracks cases of polio during an epidemic in Sweden in 1905 and was the first to suggest that polio was contagious and that you could get it from “those afflicted with the abortive type” (1907)
  • although they don’t actually identify the poliovirus, Dr. Karl Landsteiner and Dr. Erwin Popper  identify that a virus causes polio when they inject material from the spinal cord of a child who had recently died with polio into the peritoneum of two monkeys, both of which soon developed paralytic polio (1908)
  • Simon Flexner, first discovers polio antibodies (1911), but unlike other researchers at the time, pushes the theory that polio was spread by the olfactory route, instead of the fecal-oral route, which was why we saw the development of nose sprays, etc., to try and prevent polio, none of which worked of course
  • a large polio epidemic in the United States causes at least 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths (1916)
  • Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw invent the first iron lung, the Drinker respirator (1929)
  • Frank M. Burnet and Jean Macnamara proposed that there were antigenically different strains of poliovirus (1931)
  • John R. Paul and James D. Trask help figure out how polio was spread by identifying the polio virus in human waste and sewage samples (1932)
  • Maurice Brodie and John Kolmer have unsuccessful field trials of early polio vaccines, including allergic reactions and vaccine induced polio because of poor attenuation (1935)
  • Sister Elizabeth Kenny establishes a clinic in Australia to treat polio survivors (1932) and later publishes her treatment recommendations, Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia (1937)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is founded by FDR to stop polio (1937)
  • the first March of Dimes fundraisers to stop polio (1938)
  • Carl Kling found traces of the poliovirus in the Stockholm sewage system (1942)
  • the Sister Kenny Institute is built in Minneapolis, as her treatment methods become widely accepted after years of controversy (1942)
  • the U.S. Army Neurotropic Virus Commission, including Albert Sabin, gets a grant from the NFIP to study polio in North Africa (1943)
  • Isabel Morgan actually developed the first inactivated polio vaccine, but only tested it on monkeys (1949)
  • John Enders, with T. H. Weller and F. C. Robbins, received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for their work on the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses (1949)
  • David Bodian creates the monkey model using field isolates of poliovirus and with Jonas Salk, identifies the three poliovirus serotyes (1950s)
  • Hilary Koprowki develops the first oral, live polio vaccine, (1950) although Sabin’s vaccine eventually gets licensed because it is thought to be less neurovirulent in monkeys and undergoes more testing
  • there are 58,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States (1952)
  • Renato Dulbecco, with Marguerite Vogt, successfully grows and purifies polio virus (1952)
  • the Polio Pioneers vaccine field trial, led by Thomas Francis Jr.,  that proves that Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is safe and effective begins (1954)
  • Jonas Salk gets approval for his polio vaccine (1955)
  • improperly inactivated polio vaccine from Cutter Laboratories (Cutter Incident) causes 40,000 cases of polio, 200 cases of paralysis, and kills ten people (1955)
  • Albert Sabin develops the first live, oral polio vaccine, which replaced Jonas Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine (1961)
  • that polio survivors can develop new, late complications or post-polio syndrome begins to get reported (1969)
  • last endemic case of polio in the United States (1979)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis officially changes its name to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation (1979)
  • the World Health Assembly adopts a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio by 2000 and the the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is launched (1988)
  • last imported case of polio in the United States (1993)
  • the WHO Region of the Americas is declared polio free (1994)
  • “last” case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States (1999)
  • wild poliovirus type 2 eradicated (1999)
  • the WHO Western Pacific Region is declared polio free (2000)
  • the United States switches back to using the an inactivated polio vaccine because of concerns over VAPP (2000)
  • the WHO European Region is declared polio free (2002)
  • outbreak of vaccine derived polio among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota (2005)
  • last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States, an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program (2005)
  • last case of VAPP, a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s (2009)
  • seasonal reports of acute flaccid myelitis in the late summer and early fall, which might be caused by a non-polio enterovirus, are reminiscent of polio epidemics in the early part of the 20th century (2014)
  • Bob Sears says that it is okay to delay the polio vaccine on his alternative vaccine schedule because “we don’t have polio in the United States” (2015)
  • a global switch from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV in routine immunization programs (2016)
  • polio remains endemic in just three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan (2018)

So it should be clear, that despite what some folks think, polio wasn’t conquered overnight. And Salk and Sabin obviously had a lot of help, although those are the names we most commonly hear connected with polio eradication.

“Until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk of importation of polio, especially vulnerable countries with weak public health and immunization services and travel or trade links to endemic countries.”

Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Endemic Countries

And to be clear, polio hasn’t yet been conquered.

There is still some work to do unless we want to see cases of polio and paralytic polio return.

That’s why it is important that you don’t skip your child’s vaccines, even for diseases that we don’t have in the United States anymore.

More on the History of Polio

The Myth That Polio Only Went Away Because They Changed the Way It Was Diagnosed

Have you heard this one?

“Before the vaccine was developed, the diagnosis of polio required 24 or more hours of paralysis. After the vaccine release, the diagnosis changed to at least 60 days of paralysis. As you can imagine, cases of polio dropped significantly.”

So that’s why polio went away?

It wasn’t the vaccine?

The Myth That Polio Went Away Because They Changed the Diagnostic Criteria

In 1952, there were 21,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States.

But were there really?

Didn’t they change the way they diagnosed polio a few years later, right after the first polio vaccines came out, making it less likely that folks would be diagnosed with polio?

The original diagnostic criteria for polio came from the World Health Organization and included:

“Signs and symptoms of nonparalytic poliomyelitis with the addition of partial or complete paralysis of one or more muscle groups, detected on two examinations at least 24 hours apart.”

It changed in 1955 to include residual paralysis 10 to 20 days after onset of illness and again 50 to 70 days after onset.

Why?

“In the past children’s paralysis was often not correctly diagnosed as polio. Stool samples need to be analyzed to be able to distinguish paralytic symptoms from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, transverse myelitis, or traumatic neuritis.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But you coulld’t just use stool samples, as many kids might have recently had non-paralytic polio, and could test positive for polio (false positive test), but have another reason to have paralysis.

“Isolation of poliovirus is helpful but not necessary to confirm a case of paralytic poliomyelitis, and isolation of poliovirus itself does not confirm diagnosis.”

Alexander et al. on Vaccine Policy Changes and Epidemiology of Poliomyelitis in the United States

Since polio causes residual paralysis, the new diagnostic criteria helped to make sure that kids were diagnosed correctly.

Did We Overestimate the Number of Kids with Polio?

Some folks think that since we changed the criteria, we overestimated the number of kids with polio in the years before the vaccine came out.

Most of this idea seems to come from a panel discussion in 1960 by critics of the original polio vaccine, The Present Status of Polio Vaccines, including two, Dr. Herald R. Cox and Dr. Herman Kleinman, who were working on a competing live-virus vaccine.

None in the group were arguing against vaccines, or even really, that the Salk polio vaccine didn’t work at all though. They just didn’t think that it was effective as some folks thought.

“I’ve talked long enough. The only other thing I can say is that the live poliovirus vaccine is coming. It takes time. The one thing I am sure of in this life is that the truth always wins out.”

Dr. Herald R. Cox on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

Dr. Cox did talk a lot about the oral polio vaccine. He talked about successful trials in Minneapolis, Nicaragua, Finland, West Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Costa Rica, etc.

When anti-vaccine folks cherry pick quotes from The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion panel, they seem to leave out all of the stuff about how well the oral polio vaccine works.

That’s how they work to scare parents and hope that their anti-vaccine myths and misinformation can win out over the truth that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

“Since nothing is available, there seems to be no alternative but to push the use of it. I don’t think we should do so in ignorance, nor too complacently, believing that as long as we have something partially effective there is no need to have something better.”

Dr. Bernard Greenberg on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

And of course, they did, fairly soon, switch to something better – the Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine.

Interestingly, using the idea that we changed the diagnostic criteria to make polio go away in an argument about vaccines is known as the Greenberg Gambit.

It tells you something about anti-vaccine arguments, that these folks are misinterpreting something someone said about vaccines almost 60 years ago.

In pushing the idea that polio hasn’t been eliminated, but rather just redefined, they also miss that:

But isn’t polio still around and just renamed as transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and aseptic meningitis?

Let’s do the math.

Using the adjusted numbers in the The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion, there were at about 6,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States in 1959.

While 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States develop Guillain-Barré syndrome each year, the risk increases with age, and it is rare in young kids. Remember, paralytic polio mostly affected younger children, typically those under age 5 years.

“Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years.”

Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet

Similarly, transverse myelitis is uncommon in younger children, and there are even fewer cases, about 1,400 a year.

What about aseptic meningitis? That doesn’t usually cause paralysis.

So do the math.

You aren’t going to find that many kids (remember, the incidence was 5-7 per 1,000) under age 5 years who really have “polio,” but instead, because of a worldwide conspiracy about vaccines, are getting diagnosed with transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), or aseptic meningitis instead.

Anyway, kids with acute flaccid paralysis are thoroughly tested to make sure they don’t have polio. And both transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome have different signs and symptoms from paralytic polio. Unlike polio, which as asymmetric muscle atrophy, the atrophy in transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome is symmetrical. Also, unlike those other conditions that cause AFP, with polio, nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyography testing will be abnormal. Plus, polio typically starts with a fever. The other conditions don’t.  So while these conditions might all be included in a differential diagnosis for someone with AFP, they are not usually that hard to distinguish.

“Each case of AFP should be followed by a diagnosis to find its cause. Within 14 days of the onset of AFP two stool samples should be collected 24 to 48 hours apart and need to be sent to a GPEI accredited laboratory to be tested for the poliovirus.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But why be so strict on following up on every case of AFP?

It’s very simple.

If you miss a case of polio, then it could lead to many more cases of polio. And that would tmake it very hard to eradicate polio in an area.

If anything, until the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, it is thought that cases of polio and paralytic polio were greatly underestimated in many parts of the world!

And now polio is almost eradicated.

“DR. SABIN: Let us agree, at least, that things are not being brushed aside. Let us say that we might disagree on the extent to which certain things have received study. But I hope that Dr. Bodian realizes that nobody is brushing things aside. I would not have taken the trouble of spending several months studying viremia with different strains in chimpanzees and human volunteers, and viremia produced by certain low temperature mutants to correlate it with their invasive capacity, if I were merely brushing it aside.”

Live Polio Vaccines – Papers Presented and Discussions Held at the First International Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccines

There is no conspiracy.

Think about it.

If they redefined how paralytic polio was diagnosed in 1955 as part of a conspiracy to make it look like the polio vaccines were working, then why did the number of cases continue to drop into the 1960s?

Shouldn’t they have just dropped in 1955 and then stayed at the same lower level?

After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States.
After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States, although there was an uptick in 1959, before we made the switch.

And why don’t any of the folks with other conditions that cause paralysis, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) ever have polio virus in their system when they are tested?

Also, if the renaming theory explains why the polio vaccine didn’t work, then why do anti-vaccine folks also need to push misinformation about DDT and polio?

What to Know About Polio Myths and Conspiracies

The near eradication of polio from the world is one of the big success stories of the modern era, just as those who push the idea that has all been faked is a snapshot of society at one of our low points.

More on Polio Myths and Conspiracies