Rotary celebrating 30-plus years of polio eradication efforts

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By Jenny Marsh | Pagosa Springs Rotary Club

World Polio Day this year is Oct. 24. Polio is a contagious viral disease that spreads through person-to-person contact. It was most prevalent in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Most people who get infected with poliovirus will not have any visible symptoms. 

About 25 percent (one out of four) individuals with polio will have flu-like symptoms including sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache and stomach pain. The symptoms typically last two to five days and then go away on their own. A few people will develop more serious symptoms such infection of the covering of the spinal cord or brain (meningitis) or paralysis (weakness or inability to move parts of the body). Paralysis can lead to lung failure, which can be treated with iron lung devices. Of 100 people who develop paralysis, two to 10 may die. 

Polio vaccines protect people against naturally occurring polioviruses and vaccine-derived poliovirus. Unvaccinated and under-vaccinated people are at risk for developing the polio infection. 

There are two kinds of polio infection: wild (from active virus) and vaccine-derived or “variant” (from weakened virus shed by individuals vaccinated with oral polio vaccine). 

In the early 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk developed the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). This vaccine has no risk of seeding vaccine-derived (or variant) polio outbreaks because the inactivated/killed virus cannot mutate and cause disease. This is the vaccine currently given in the U.S. 

In the late 1950s, Dr. Albert Sabin developed the oral polio vaccine (OPV). Advantages of the OPV are that it is safe, effective and easy to administer, and so it is often given in the developing world. The live but weakened virus in OPV replicates in the gut and produces strong intestinal immunity. The disadvantage is that persons vaccinated with OPV can shed the weakened vaccine virus in their stool for several weeks. In areas with poor sanitation, the weakened virus can spread to unvaccinated and under-vaccinated individuals. This transmission and resulting disease is called vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV). 

The United States has given only IPV since 2000. Continuing to achieve high IPV vaccination coverage is the best way to keep the U.S. polio-free and prevent the virus from spreading. Access to clean water, good hand hygiene habits, modern sewage systems and wastewater management further prevent germs, including viruses like poliovirus, from spreading around the world. 

Rotary International has been working on polio eradication for more than 30 years and has helped reduce polio cases by 99.9 percent worldwide, immunizing more than 2 billion children across 122 countries. 

In 1985, Rotary launched the Polio Plus initiative.

In 1988, Rotary founded the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. At that time, wild poliovirus paralyzed hundreds of children every day. There were 350,000 cases across more than 125 countries. 

In 2000, children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were getting sick. From July 2000-July 2001, 21 children were paralyzed on the island. Two died. All but one were either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. Their communities had vaccination rates as low as 7 percent. This was an outbreak of the weakened vaccine virus, which had mutated in unvaccinated and under-vaccinated individuals and become virulent. 

In August 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) African region was certified free of wild poliovirus. 

In 2021, more than 370 million children were vaccinated across 30 countries with more than 1 billion doses of OPV. 

Rotary is leading current campaigns against wild poliovirus, which is endemic in Pakistan (14 cases in 2022) and Afghanistan (one case in 2022). Four cases reported in Mozambique were related to an outbreak in Malawi in late 2021. The virus in those cases was linked to a strain from Pakistan. The Pakistan immunization campaign focusing on 43 million children under the age of 5. 

Rotary and its partners (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, nongovernmental organizations, local ministries of health, others) are now deploying a new polio vaccine, novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), to fight outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (aka variant poliovirus or VDPV), still found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

To learn more about your own polio vaccination status and risk of exposure, speak with your primary care provider. You can access vaccination histories from the states in which you have received vaccines by going to:

• https://www.immunize.org/states/

• https://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p3065.pdf

To learn more about the current status of polio and support efforts to eradicate it:

1. Read the October 2022 issue of Rotary magazine. 

2. Go to www.Endpolio.org/world-polio-day. 

3. Go to the CDC polio website: www.cdc.gov/polio.

4. Contact your local Rotary Club: https://my.rotary.org/club-search.

There are two Rotary Clubs in Pagosa Springs. 

Contributions to Rotary’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative will be matched two-to-one by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

To donate to Rotary’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative, please go to https://www.endpolio.org.donate.