I see what you did

There is this neat little trick that some antivaxers are using to try and convince the unknowing public that vaccines are evil. They will say that the polio vaccine is to be blamed for most cases of polio in the world today. And, you now what? They’re right, but it’s a trick. It’s like seeing an object disappear during a magic show and having the magician tell you, “See? It disappeared!” Well, yes, it disappeared, but there was more to it.

There used to be a time when polio was rampant not only here but all over the world. Thousands and thousands of children came down with the disease and many of them would be left paralyzed or disabled for the rest of their lives. They contracted polio through the fecal-oral route. That is, they ate something contaminated with polio. For young children, that something would often be food or water contaminated with stool from people with polio. Or they would give it to one another through their interactions, through normal child’s play.

Then two vaccines came along. One, the injected vaccine, has a dead virus in it. It’s not as effective as the other one, the oral vaccine. The oral vaccine – abbreviated as OVP – has a live, attenuated virus. By “attenuated” we mean that it is incapable of causing disease, for the most part. We’ll look at the “for the most part” part in a second.

That attenuated virus is consumed through the mouth. Mine tasted like orange. I remember it clearly. The virus then makes its way to the gut, where it triggers an immune response. The immune response kills the attenuated virus and grants the person life-long immunity. But there was one more benefit with this vaccine. Apparently, the attenuated virus would be shed in the stool of children who received the vaccine, passing it on to unvaccinated children, also immunizing them.

The current strategy is to go into a place teeming with polio, give the oral vaccine, let that immunity spread around, and then kill-off the last of the polio with the injectable vaccine. But, remember that “for the most part” part? Well, the have been instances where the oral vaccine causes disease in someone who gets it because their immune system is not up to the challenge for some reason like an underlying disease or condition, poor nutrition, etc. remember, these are very poor places in the world that are being vaccinated.

There have also been instances where children who receive the oral vaccine and shed the virus shed it to someone who cannot deal with the virus. Again, this could be because of an underlying condition. One typical case is a baby who is immunized and goes to visit their grandparents a few hours later. Some of the attenuated virus is left in the child’s mouth, and the child drools over grandpa or grandma. Because grandpa and grandma are elderly, they are not able to combat the virus very well.

And then there are instances where the population only gets immunized partially because the campaign gets interrupted for some reason like a breakout of war or a change in the political will. When that happens, the virus is being shed and transmitted, but it gains the ability to infect better and cause disease because, just like it was “bred” to be less pathogenic, jumping from one person to another also allows it to be bred into a strain that causes disease.

When anti-vaccine groups say that the polio vaccine causes most cases of polio, they are correct, but they are not telling you the whole story. They will not tell you that the vaccine has stopped epidemics of polio in their tracks, that the polio vaccine given in a completed program prevents polio better than anything, and that those cases that do happen because of the vaccine are by far less than the cases that would occur without the vaccine. It’s a fog and mirrors type of situation.

Now that you know all this, you can counter their claims with a simple question: “What would the number of cases of polio be without the vaccine, and would they be less or more severe?”

Then watch them squirm or call you a pharma shill.


3 thoughts on “I see what you did

  1. I posted a link to your post over at Orac's. I'm sure the polio vaccine denialists will head over in due time. So be prepared.

  2. Well, the new tactic from the anti-vax camp is to claim that polio is now being reported as meningitis in order to make it appear as though it's being eradicated.

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