A rare form of vaccine-derived Polio has brought the severe disease back to Papua New Guinea 22 years after the Pacific island was declared Polio-free
UNITED NATIONS — A new case of polio — the infectious disease that can lead to paralysis in children — has emerged on the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, a country that had previously been declared Polio-free.
The new case is vaccine-derived, meaning a child supplied with an oral polio vaccine likely spread the disease through tainted fecal matter into contaminated drinking water and to another child.
That method of infection has been long-documented, but remains exceptionally rare. By the World Health Organization’s own statistics, of the 10 billion doses of polio virus administered since the year 2000, just 760 children have been diagnosed with vaccine-derived polio.
“What is happening in [Papua New Guinea] is that you have pockets of population which are not well-vaccinated, and therefore, the use of the oral polio vaccine — although its a very rare emergence — can in some cases result in vaccine-derived polio virus paralysis.”
Michel Zaffran is WHO’s director for polio eradication.
“It should not be difficult to interrupt this outbreak if we carry out rapidly a good quality vaccination campaign.”
Zaffran and the WHO speak from experience. Since U.N. member states set a goal in the late 1980s of eradicating polio, the disease has been almost entirely stamped out worldwide.
“When we started the eradication back in 1988, there were 350,000 cases of paralytic polio every year in 125 countries that were endemic for this polio virus. We now are down actually three endemic countries — one hasn’t had one, Nigeria hasn’t had a single case since August 2016 — and the two that have had cases this year, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have had a total of 11 cases so far.”
But eradicating a disease is much harder than discovering a means of treatment.
There’s still no cure for polio, but vaccines first rolled out in the 1950’s are credited with preventing hundreds of millions of new infections.