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The Polio Global Eradication Initiative (PGEI), founded in 1988 by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, holds up India as a prime example of its success at eradicating polio, stating on its website (Jan. 11 2012) that "India has made unprecedented progress against polio in the last two years and on 13 January, 2012, India will reach a major milestone - a 12-month period without any case of polio being recorded."
This report, however, is highly misleading, as an estimated 100-180 Indian children are diagnosed with vaccine-associated polio paralysis (VAPP) each year. In fact, the clinical presentation of the disease, including paralysis, caused by VAPP is indistinguishable from that caused by wild polioviruses, making the PGEI's pronouncements all the more suspect.1
According to the Polio Global Eradication Initiative's own statistics2 there were 42 cases of wild-type polio (WPV) reported in India in 2010, indicating that vaccine-induced cases of polio paralysis (100-180 annually) outnumber wild-type cases by a factor of 3-4. Even if we put aside the important question of whether or not the PGEI is accurately differentiating between wild and vaccine-associated polio cases in their statistics, we still must ask ourselves: should not the real-world effects of immunization, both good and bad, be included in PGEI's measurement of success?
For the dozens of Indian children who develop vaccine-induced paralysis every year, the PGEI's recent declaration of India as nearing "polio free" status, is not only disingenuous, but could be considered an attempt to minimize their obvious liability in having transformed polio from a natural disease vector into a manmade (iatrogenic) one.
VAPP is, in fact, the predominant form of the disease in developed countries like the US since 1973.3 The problem of vaccine-induced polio paralysis was so severe that the The United States moved to the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 2000, after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended altogether eliminating the live-virus oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is still used throughout the third world, despite the known risks.
Polio underscores the need for a change in the way we look at so-called "vaccine preventable" diseases as a whole. In most people with a healthy immune system, a poliovirus infection does not even generate symptoms. Only rarely does the infection produce minor symptoms, e.g. sore throat, fever, gastrointestinal disturbances, and influenza-like illness. In only 3% of infections does virus gain entry to the central nervous system, and then, in only 1-5 in 1000 cases does the infection progress to paralytic disease.
Due to the fact that polio spreads through the fecal-oral route (i.e. the virus is transmitted from the stool of an infected person to the mouth of another person through a contaminated object, e.g. utensil) focusing on hygiene, sanitation and proper nutrition (to support innate immunity) is a logical way to prevent transmission in the first place, as well as reducing morbidity associated with an infection when it does occur.
Instead, a large portion of the world's vaccines are given to the third world as "charity," when the underlying conditions of economic impoverishment, poor nutrition, chemical exposures, and socio-political unrest are never addressed. You simply can't vaccinate people out of these conditions, and as India's new epidemic of vaccine-induced polio cases clearly demonstrates, the "cure" may be far worse than the disease itself.
1 Cono J, Alexander LN (2002). "Chapter 10: Poliomyelitis" (PDF). Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance Manual.
3Strebel PM, Sutter RW, Cochi SL, et al. Epidemiology of poliomyelitis in the United States one decade after the last reported case of indigenous wild virus-associated disease. Clin Infect Dis 1992;14:568-79.