Polio Strain Eradication and the Anti-Vaccination Movement: Many Fronts to Combat, many ways to move Forwards

Aikaterini Dedeilia

Every day, steps towards sustainable development and the improvement of global health are made. A “Historic Achievement for humanity” has been realized a few days before, as WPV3, the third subtype of poliovirus, has been fully eradicated. Now, two out of three in total wild poliovirus strains have been eradicated worldwide, taking one step closer towards the complete elimination of polio disease[i].

This newest result has been announced in World Polio Day, on the 24th of October 2019. While in 1988 the wild poliovirus affected 350.000 people on 125 countries, in 2019 it affects less than 40 people in only 2 countries, something incredible on its own. It is high time we say goodbye to the second highly fatal disease, after smallpox. This marks a great victory for vaccination, and for global health worldwide. More specifically, thanks to the “Global Polio Eradication Initiative” (GPEI) comprised of WHO, UNICEF and other health partners, 18 million people have the ability to walk, something which would not be able otherwise, had they been paralyzed by the poliovirus. WHO also mentioned that this huge milestone “will send a strong message” worldwide, as far as the effectiveness and importance of vaccines is concerned.

However, the anti-vaccination movement is illustrating “how easily hard-won gains are lost”, according to the World Health Organisation 2018 Assessment report of the Global Vaccine Action Plan[ii]. As a result of lack of vaccination, multiple measles breakouts have been observed in the Western World[iii], in developed countries. The most infamous incident concerning measles endemic in the United States was recorded in Disneyworld in 2014-2015, where 125 children were affected in one day[iv].

The anti-vaccination movement also disrupts the rule of “herd immunity”: as children which may be too young or not fit for vaccination used to be protected by the social structure of the rest of the vaccinated and healthy peers, but nowadays the risk is upon not only the unvaccinated children of the anti-vaccination families but also a significant vulnerable portion of the population is affected[v]. 90% of vaccination-acquired immunity in the population is considered to create good community-level protection. This percentage must be reached and sustained in the future, for measles vaccination (through the MMR vaccine), which is the most socially important amongst the vaccine-preventable diseases, affecting both children and adults. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to address the anti-vaccination movement and take many steps towards its control and the successful vaccination of children with the MMR vaccine.

After all, we live in an area of multiple challenges which need to be addressed in order to move towards the sustainable development goals, such as the World Health Organisation Vision 2030 has set. However, small steps are done every day, and greater or smaller achievements are realized, thus making the future of humanity better and brighter every single day. And it is our role as health professionals, to serve this role towards humanity.


[i] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1049941

[ii] https://www.who.int/immunization/global_vaccine_action_plan/en/

[iii] Hussain A, Ali S, Ahmed M, Hussain S. The Anti-vaccination Movement: A Regression in Modern Medicine. Cureus. 2018;10(7):e2919. Published 2018 Jul 3. doi:10.7759/cureus.2919

[iv] Zipprich J, Winter K, Hacker J, Xia D, Watt J, Harriman K, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Feb 20; 64(6):153-4.

[v] Evrony A, Caplan A. The overlooked dangers of anti-vaccination groups’ social media presence. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2017;13(6):1–2. doi:10.1080/21645515.2017.1283467

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