Many people believe that if they get a vaccine against a certain disease, they won’t get that disease. After all, that is the point of vaccines, right?
Unfortunately, that is not the case when it comes to polio in some countries. In fact, there has been a concerning surge in cases of vaccine-derived polio in Africa.
Polio is highly infectious and is spread through contaminated food and water. It typically strikes children who are younger than 5, and 1 out of every 200 cases, on average, will result in paralysis. Some patients die when the disease cripples their breathing muscles.
The oral polio vaccine, or OPV, has been used globally thanks to its easy administration and low cost. It contains weakened live polioviruses that match wild polioviruses, and they can actually cause the disease when they are “loose in the environment.” That means that in places where hygiene and sanitation practices are questionable, the viruses can get into water sources or be spread through contaminated foods and hands. The weakened virus replicates for a short period of time in children’s intestines and is then excreted through feces.
According to researchers, OPV viruses can quickly regain strength when they start spreading on their own, developing mutations that make it nearly impossible to distinguish from the wild virus. It spreads just as easily as wild polio and is every bit as virulent.
It is important to note, however, that the version of the vaccine used in Western countries is a more expensive, injectable vaccine that contains inactivated viruses that are not capable of causing polio – although that doesn’t mean it cannot cause vaccine injury.
The problem has grown so serious that even the mainstream media can’t ignore it. In November, ABC News reported that four African countries had reported new cases of polio that were linked to the vaccine and that global health numbers indicate that more children are being paralyzed by polioviruses from vaccines than those found in the wild.
The cases were registered in Congo, Angola, Central African Republic and Nigeria. All of the cases were sparked by a Type 2 virus in the vaccine.
Last year, Philippine health officials declared a new polio outbreak in the country nearly 20 years after the World Health Organization had declared the country free of the disease. It was found in children as well as sewage and waterways there. In a joint statement, the World Health Organization and UNICEF stated the outbreak was especially concerning because it had been caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. The last known case of polio in the Philippines to come from a wild strain of the virus was back in 1993.
Officials are “failing badly” at stopping vaccine-derived polio outbreaks
A group set up by the World Health Organization to monitor polio eradication, the Independent Monitoring Board, warned in a report that vaccine-derived polio was “spreading uncontrolled in West Africa, bursting geographical boundaries and raising fundamental questions and challenges for the whole eradication process.”
They added that officials were “failing badly” when it came to meeting their goal of stopping all vaccine-derived polio outbreaks within the first 120 days of detection. They said the WHO was too “relaxed” about the matter and that “new thinking” was in order.
This week, the African Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication announced that the continent was officially free of wild poliovirus following decades of effort. However, they warned that vaccine-derived polio cases are still sparking outbreaks in more than a dozen countries.
It doesn’t make any sense that the intervention that is supposed to stop this paralyzing disease is actually spreading it. And it’s interesting to note how quickly its defenders point out that it’s just the oral vaccine that contains the live virus – yet that is the one that is given to people in third-world countries despite the fact that they are far more likely to have the poor hygiene and sanitary conditions that promote its spread.
There are far too many instances of medical interventions causing the very problems they claim to prevent, from mammograms raising the risk of breast cancer to antidepressants making people suicidal and the oral polio vaccine spreading the disease. Why isn’t there more outrage over this?
Sources for this article include:
South Sudan confirms outbreak of vaccine-derived polio
Health officials in South Sudan on Thursday confirmed a new outbreak of polio, just months after declaring the wild version of the deadly virus eradicated in Africa’s youngest country.
The health ministry said 15 cases of vaccine-derived polio—a form of the illness which occurs in rare incidents when the weakened virus in the vaccine mutates—had been identified in the country’s northwest.
“Yes, there is an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio, and the Ministry of Health and its partners are working on it, and I think it is under control,” the ministry’s director general for preventative health services, Dr. John Pasquale Romunu, told reporters.
“It has affected quite a number of counties and states.”
On August 25, South Sudan was among four African nations to receive confirmation that wild poliovirus had been eradicated within their borders—allowing the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the entire continent free of the crippling disease.
It was just the second time a deadly virus had been declared eradicated in Africa since smallpox 40 years earlier.
But the fanfare was short lived. Just two days later the UN confirmed that more than a dozen cases of vaccine-derived polio had sprung up in nine states across Sudan.
This version of the disease particularly affects countries with low immunisation rates and poor sanitation where it can transmit through contaminated water or food, health experts say.
The polio vaccine given to children contains a weakened trace of the virus, which passes through faeces and in the right conditions can spread through an under-immunised community, mutating along the way.
Mayien Machut, an undersecretary in South Sudan’s health ministry, said the country’s status as wild poliovirus free remained in place, but was working with the WHO to bring this vaccine-derived outbreak under control.
“We are going to contain it,” he said.
An oral vaccine given to young children has been massively effective against polio around the world.
Vaccine-derived outbreaks are stopped by using the same health tactics as eradicated wild polio.
That includes the intense monitoring of populations and ensuring high vaccination coverage.
Poliomyelitis—the medical term for polio—is an acutely infectious and contagious virus which attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children.