What Polio Means for Disease Prevention

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They’re among the best and most prescribed medicines on the planet, and every year around 40 million children in the U.S. get one as a medical treatment or preventative measure. Today, the World Health Organization announces it has worked out the next frontier of potential for a polio-like disease that has been eradicated in nearly all other parts of the world. It will work for vaccines and will only get better.

“The world has grown a lot to understand what real prevention and vaccination strategy looks like. We’ve learned that there is one universal principle—unvaccinated populations are susceptible to much more severe illness than vaccinated populations,” says Dr. Marc Perrone, President and CEO of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. “This is the essence of why we vaccinate, and despite much scientific research to the contrary, we’ve never known for sure.”

Polio is a particularly devastating disease that affected an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people a year between the 1920s and 1940s in the U.S. but now at least four cases are reported per year. In the course of developing a vaccine in 1955 and 1956, Dr. Donald Swan found out, based on a mere three test cases, that vaccine caused far more serious paralysis. Since those early results, the polio vaccine has been shown to be effective in every country on Earth except China, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. “It is scientifically indisputable that today’s vaccine is the reason why we are no longer facing the threat of polio epidemics in any part of the world,” says Perrone.

Recently, in a break from tradition, the U.S. has sent an experimental vaccine to southern India, Kenya, and Nigeria in a collaboration with the WHO. “We are literally in a place where we have unvaccinated populations around the globe… we want to maximize the protective power of polio vaccines,” says Perrone.

Another thing we know is the benefits of vaccines—they’re 95 percent effective in preventing illness and death. Still, it’s just the first step. While they’re crucial to universal vaccination, they’re not the final solution, and those closest to the problem have asked why.

Perrone explains. “Early years vaccination programs are a very powerful tool, but it’s only part of the cure. Therefore, we need to move beyond vaccines to get to the final goal—preventing people from getting the virus in the first place,” says Perrone. “It has been said that prevention is ninety-five percent. We know that prevention works. We have more good news. In the eyes of the new commissioner of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, polio is history.”

Watch Dr. Marc Perrone’s Friday segment on Fox News Radio

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