Although unrelated vaccine-like polio is found in the UK sewage every year, recent samples were different to the rest. They were related and contained mutations, implying human infection, possibly through poor hygiene. This strain is likely to be vaccine derived. The UKHSA suggests “investigations will aim to establish if any community transmission is occurring”. As alarming as this development sounds, experts are saying that continued vaccination efforts will mean this form poses a low risk.
The WHO’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) suggests that 86% of people in London are vaccinated against polio. However, recent decreases in routine vaccination uptake might mean that the virus continues to pass around. Global efforts to eradicate polio through vaccination campaigns have involved over $17 billion over three decades. Despite this, vaccine hesitancy, political instability, and “lack of adequate health infrastructure” pose challenges to the GPEI.
More recently, a patient in New York developed paralysis from the virus for the first time since 2013. Officials believe that the patient was exposed to an individual who received a weakened live virus vaccine. As the patient was not vaccinated it had a severe effect. Americans are mostly vaccinated with several doses from the age of two months, so this is an unlikely but not impossible occurrence. However, Dr Jennifer Nuzzo warns that “this isn’t normal.”* She suggests that if people are vaccinated, they needn’t worry, but it is “really important” that everyone’s vaccinations are up to date.
The WHO states that “as long as a single child remains infected”, children across the world are “at risk”. While polio continues to lurk in sewage and appears every few years in some countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to report cases. Some of the key blockers in Pakistan include a ban on polio vaccines by a militant campaign that linked the threat of the US military to the vaccination programme. While these misconceptions exploit natural vaccine hesitancy, there can be no end to vaccine-preventable diseases.
*To hear DrPH Nuzzo at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington in 2023, click here to get your tickets!