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Is the Current Polio Vaccine Effective?
- Updated: August 22, 2014
Because of an unusually deadly polio outbreak in the Republic of Congo back in 2010 due to a mutated virus that had somehow slipped past the protection of the vaccination, researchers began conducting new studies on the polio vaccine and the findings have many experts alarmed.
Launching a major campaign, researchers were able to stop the virus but in doing so, they found that as polio nears extinction, new and dangerous strains could emerge. Researchers also agreed the best possible protection for the future would involve increasing the rates of vaccination.
There are various effects on the body associated with polio but typically, the virus causes paralysis. Although polio is not usually fatal, almost 50% of the people in the Republic of Congo who became sick in 2010 actually died.
This was bad enough but even more confusing was the fact that half of them had received the vaccination. According to Felix Drexler, a virologist at the University of Bonn, “That made it even more bizarre, because if they had been vaccinated, they shouldn’t be sick”.
While studying the virus in Africa and Europe, Drexler, along with his colleagues, discovered mutations in key parts of its outer coat, nothing ever seen before. The interesting thing, the place antibodies that fight the virus attach is the very same place the mutations were found.
This raised concerns of antibodies in a person’s blood being compromised, and therefore, unable to neutralize the virus. To put this concern to rest, testing was performed on the virus against blood samples from people with high vaccination coverage. Unfortunately, Drexler’s fears were quickly realized when testing showed as much as 29% of the samples had no protection from the new mutant strain.
Stopping the Polio Virus
Prior to the 2010 outbreak, the Republic of Congo had been free of the polio virus. To stop the mutated virus, a total of four nationwide immunization drives were needed for every woman, man, and child. As stated by Drexler’s team worked feverishly to get everyone vaccinated with the strongest form of vaccine made, a successful endeavor.
Since that time, the virus has not returned although Drexler along with other experts in the field agree it could still surface at some time in the future. In addition, he believes it is possible the vaccination will not protect everyone. Experts agree across the board that polio is at its end. In fact, a virus that usually hits just three countries is now down to fewer than 150 cases anywhere in the world.
Will the New Polio Vaccination Do the Job?
Even though a more powerful vaccination is offered for the mutated polio virus, experts still have concerns that perhaps, this will not be enough. Another expert from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virologist Olen Kew, said while not involved with Drexler’s study, he agrees the vaccination has rid the virus everywhere used.
He feels the incident in the Republic of Congo had to do with a susceptible group of people opening up. He goes on to say that campaigns for the polio virus during the 1990s and into the 2000s were disrupted because of civil rest so when the virus appeared, it led to a large number of deaths.
However, associate director at the Emory Vaccine Center, Walt Orenstein, believes protection from mutated viruses will be better with stronger vaccines but even more importantly, transmission of the virus needs to be stopped quickly.