We must remain vigilant!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Sabine Meinert, Rotary Deutschland

In the United States, a case of polio was detected in New York State - after almost ten years without polio cases. The affected person had not been vaccinated. Urs Herzog is the End Polio Now Zone Coordinator for Zones 15 and 16. He gave a brief assessment.

The USA is not a developing country, it has a highly specialised and effective health system. Should this case from the USA be worrying?

No, but for me it is a sign that we need to step up our efforts in the fight against polio. The case mentioned above, on the other hand, is a special one: an unvaccinated man who probably brought the viruses with him from abroad.

In England, polioviruses were also recently detected in sewage. But there was no disease because the situation was detected before transmission - through surveillance - and could be controlled. The situation was similar in Geneva about ten years ago. There, the vaccination rate was also very high and no one fell ill.

If the vaccination rate falls, such situations could become a problem. That's why we have to keep at it here as elsewhere and continue the fight against polio.

A look at the current statistics also shows new cases in Afghanistan: twelve this year alone - significantly more than in 2021. Is the situation in the region deteriorating?

No. The cases in Afghanistan are related to sewage, which has led to a so-called neighbourhood infection. This means that people from the same neighbourhood who live closely together have become infected. But this can be contained well. In Pakistan, the situation of testing, vaccination, control of the disease has improved a lot recently. I am optimistic that the situation will ease soon.

Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant, because a case has also appeared in Mozambique. It was probably brought in from Pakistan. And especially in regions where vaccination campaigns are difficult because of armed conflicts, we have to remain vigilant.

If you look at the statistics, several dozen vaccine-induced polio cases also surprise us, for example in Yemen, Congo or Nigeria. Is the disease coming back there?

No, these cases were probably triggered by the previous vaccine serums and their handling. Mike Mc Govern, PolioPlus Chair at Rotary International, recently reported that the vaccination teams in these countries have been rather lax. Accordingly, polio campaigns have been cancelled, controls have not been carried out. This does not help the overall situation at all, it causes problems in the long run.

Experts, however, are now focusing on a new serum that can contain and prevent such cases. It is extremely active and well tolerated. It should put an end to vaccine-induced cases.

So how do you assess the situation overall?

Even if the new figures sound critical, they are negligible in the grand scheme of things. But they are an important pointer: "Please don't let up in the fight against polio! We are risking new cases here!"

In Germany and Austria, tens of thousands of citizens are not vaccinated. If we were to stop polio vaccinations, there could be around 700000 new polio cases in no time. Is that what we want?

It has to continue. And our arguments have at least convinced the Taliban in Afghanistan. They now accompany all-female vaccination teams and make sure that every child gets the serum. So things are moving forward.

We will also talk about all this at the end of the year at the Rotary Institute in Basel, because we have to use and spread the knowledge about polio. We must not let the efforts to eradicate the disease fall asleep! 

Thank you for the assessment!

Polio Zone Coordinator Urs Herzog