- United States reported its 1st Polio case in a decade on June 21 in unvaccinated person in New York
- Just a couple of days later on Friday, Pakistan reported its 13th case of the virus
- Polio was a common cause of paralysis in children before effective vaccines were invented
Polio cases: The United States reported its first Polio case in a decade on June 21 in an unvaccinated person in New York, the health department informed. Just a couple of days later on Friday, Pakistan reported its 13th case of the virus.
An 18-month-old infant was paralysed by wild poliovirus in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP), as the overall increased to 13 with all of them from southern KP, the Health Ministry spokesperson said on Friday, adding that the virus has a significant presence in the area.
The government is taking practical steps to ensure polio eradication, with access to polio vaccination being facilitated on an emergency basis to the districts in need, said the Health Ministry as quoted by Xinhua news agency report.
In the US, the first case of polio in the US since 2013 was announced by New York state health officials on July 21 this year. The US resident had not been vaccinated.
Polio was a common cause of paralysis in children before safe and effective vaccines were invented in the mid-20th century. Thanks to global vaccination campaigns, polio is now almost eradicated, with only 13 cases of endemic wild poliovirus reported in 2022 to date worldwide.
The New York patient reportedly contracted a form of polio that can be traced back to the live, but weakened, poliovirus used in the oral polio vaccine.
This version of the vaccine has not been used in the US since 2000. Health officials said the virus affecting the male patient, who has muscle weakness and paralysis, likely originated somewhere overseas, where oral vaccines are still administered.
What are the two kinds of polio vaccine?
Vaccines introduce a harmless version of a pathogen to your body. The idea is that they train your immune system to fight off the real germ if you ever encounter it.
The oral polio vaccine, originally developed by Albert Sabin, uses a live but weakened poliovirus that one swallows in a sugar cube or droplet. Scientists weaken – or attenuate – the virus so it can no longer cause disease.
The other kind of polio vaccine was originally developed by Jonas Salk. It contains inactivated, dead virus. It is administered by an injection.
In the US, children receive the inactivated polio vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. It provides nearly complete protection from paralytic polio.
How can the live vaccine lead to a case of polio?
The weakened form of the live virus in the oral vaccine cannot cause disease. However, because the vaccine is given orally, the weakened virus is excreted in the feces and can spread from someone who is vaccinated to their close contacts.
If the weakened virus circulates person to person for long enough, it can mutate and regain its ability to cause paralysis. The mutated virus can then infect people in communities with poor sanitation and low vaccination rates, causing disease and even paralysis. This is an exceedingly rare occurrence. With more than 10 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine administered since 2000, there have been fewer than 800 cases of vaccine-derived polio reported.
Apparently, the current patient in New York was somehow exposed to a mutated poliovirus that had been transmitted after vaccination overseas. Earlier this summer, routine surveillance spotted vaccine-derived poliovirus in London’s sewage system, but no cases have been reported there.
Why use the oral vaccine anywhere if it comes with this risk?
There’s a positive aspect to the fact that the weakened live virus can circulate in the community once oral vaccine recipients shed it in their feces. Travelling a feces-to-oral route, it can help induce immunity even in people who weren’t directly vaccinated. The oral polio vaccine is also cheaper and easier to administer than inactivated polio vaccines. Most importantly, the live-virus vaccine stops transmission of wild poliovirus in a way that the inactivated-virus vaccine does not.
The eradication of polio in the Americas, Europe and Africa has been accomplished solely through the use of the live oral vaccine. Once polio has been wiped from a continent, then it is safe to stop using the oral live vaccine and use only the inactivated vaccine, which does prevent disease in recipients and does not pose the rare risk of vaccine-derived paralytic polio.
A new and safer oral polio vaccine that has been engineered not to mutate is now replacing the earlier live-virus vaccine. Thus, even this extremely rare complication of polio vaccination.
(ap, ians inputs)