Tag: polio myths

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

St. Jude Inpatient Visiting Guidelines

How do anti-vaccine folks get away with using St. Jude inpatient visiting guidelines to convince people that shedding from vaccines is a problem?

Outdated information anti-vaccine folks push as the latest St. Jude Inpatient Visiting Guidelines.
Outdated information anti-vaccine folks push as the latest St. Jude Inpatient Visiting Guidelines.

They keep sharing guidelines that are out-of-date.

St. Jude Inpatient Visiting Guidelines

What does St. Jude tell visitors these days?

The latest Patient Visitor Guidelines from St Jude
The latest Patient Visitor Guidelines from St. Jude.

They mostly emphasize that folks should get vaccinated and protected so that they don’t get a vaccine-preventable disease, which would increase the chances that others could get sick too.

What about shedding?

It is rarely a problem.

“…the increased risk of disease in the pediatric population, in part because of increasing rates of vaccine refusal and in some circumstances more rapid loss of immunity, increases potential exposure of immunodeficient children.”

Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation

More folks not getting vaccinated? That is a problem

More on St. Jude Inpatient Visiting Guidelines

Do You Remember Sabin Sundays?

You may have heard of the Polio Pioneers, the kids who got Jonas Salk‘s original inactivated polio vaccine in 1954.

They were part of a large clinical trial, getting either the polio shot or a saline placebo, and helped prove that the vaccine was safe and effective.

Do You Remember Sabin Sundays?

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story though.

After the Cutter Incident, Albert Sabin soon proved that his live, oral polio vaccine was better than Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine.

And it was first given in the United States on April 24, 1960 – the first Sabin Sunday, when 20,000 children came to Cincinnati Children’s to receive his sugar cube vaccine.

“On three consecutive Sundays — “Sabin Sundays” — in 1960, millions of families lined up at churches and schools across the country to swallow a spoonful of pink syrup or a sugar cube treated with a life-saving polio vaccine, developed by UC researcher Albert Sabin.”

Sabin Sunday, 1960

Sabin Oral Sunday immunization programs continued over the next few years all over the country as kids got caught up on their polio vaccines.

Several Sabin Sundays were held in Arizona in 1962.

Can you imagine taking your kids to school to get them vaccinated on a Sunday?

Millions of parents did it!

Newspapers urged folks to attend the Sabin on Sunday clinics to help end the threat of "crippling poliomyelitis."
Newspapers urged folks to attend the Sabin on Sunday clinics to help end the threat of “crippling poliomyelitis.”

They lined up to get their kids vaccinated and protected.

More on Sabin Sundays

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Some anti-vaccine folks still think that the risks of vaccines are far greater than the risks of the vaccine-preventable diseases they keep you from getting.

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

They aren’t, but you can kind of understand why they might think that with a disease like polio, when they might never actually have known anyone to have the disease.

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Still, even though polio is under good control and close to being eradicated, the risk/benefit ratio clearly favors getting vaccinated and protected.

That’s because the polio vaccines are very safe and if we stopped vaccinating, polio could come back.

In fact, morbidity/mortality from polio vaccines are decreasing, as we are using much less oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the transition (OPV cessation) to just using inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

“Over the past ten years, more than 10 billion doses of OPV have been given to nearly three billion children worldwide. More than 16 million cases of polio have been prevented, and the disease has been reduced by more than 99%. It is the appropriate vaccine through which to achieve global polio eradication.”

OPV Cessation

And while most developed countries already use IPV, those that are still using OPV recently switched from a trivalent (tOPV) to a bivalent (bOPV) form of OPV. We could do this because type 2 poliovirus has already been eradicated (2015)!

Of course, the issue with the OPV vaccines is that they rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV).

Fortunately, this is even less common with bOPV.

As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.
As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.

So morbidity (getting sick)/mortality (dying) from polio vaccines is low.

There were only 31 cases of wild polio in 2018, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an additional 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries.

What about morbidity/mortality from 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

With a 99.9% drop in polio cases since 1998, your risk of getting polio in most parts of the world is very low, but you still have to consider both the morbidity/mortality of polio in the pre-vaccine era and the risk of polio returning if we stop vaccinating before it is eradicated.

What about the idea that you don’t have to worry about polio because only 1% of kids with polio developed paralysis?

“The mortality rate for acute paralytic polio ranges from 5–15%.”

Disease factsheet about poliomyelitis

Well, when everyone gets polio, even 1% is a lot.

With such a safe vaccine, why put your kids at risk of getting polio?

Do you even understand what the risks are?

No, it isn’t just the risk of wild polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since the oral polio vaccines shed, if you are unvaccinated, in addition to the risk of wild polio, there is a small risk of getting circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV) if you are not vaccinated and protected. No, it is not a big risk, as there were only 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries in 2018, but it isn’t zero either.

And the other big risk is that if enough folks stop getting vaccinated, taking their chances hiding in the herd, polio will come back and our chance to eradicate another vaccine-preventable disease will fail.

More on the Morbidity and Mortality Rates of Polio