Being consumed by our own pandemic, it’s natural that we’d completely brush off any news of other, not so threatening viruses, especially those which have been nearly eradicated like polio. As many know, polio reached its peak in the U.S. during the mid 20th century with millions being paralyzed each year, and its end only really being met towards the end of the 50s with Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine.
Since we rarely hear any news about polio, it’s usual to presume that the disease was either eradicated or just decreased to so few numbers that it really isn’t a concern anymore. For those in lesser developed countries however, this is not at all the case. Since 1980, instances of polio have popped up in nations not as equipped as the U.S. or Europe, where the virus can much more easily spread, proven by as much as 1,000 having been paralyzed in a day by the virus.
For the most part, both type 2 and type 3 have managed to be pretty much dealt with in most places, both having gone away in the last two or so decades. Type 1 has mostly managed to survive through this, but in extremely small numbers, only maintaining a few dozen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since the virus is so dangerous, and with such a small amount of infected, efforts to completely eradicate the virus are still going, with types 1 and 3 being of far less concern and being treated by usual vaccines, but type 2 instances taking on oral vaccinations instead.
Though a lot less common in the world of vaccines, these oral vaccinations not only makes it much easier to produce and distribute, but they are also far more effective because of the virus’ tendency to reproduce inside the stomach of the infected, so a digestible vaccine allows the body to be more capable of repelling the virus.
There is a reason for why this type of vaccine is less common. The virus sample in the vaccine differs from most vaccines in that the polio is weakened, not dead, so the virus has a very slight chance to fix itself back to the original state of the virus. When this occurs, an outbreak can start, especially in places where less than 80% of the population has been vaccinated, and would spread like any other instance of poliovirus. To combat this, scientists have altered the samples of the virus so that, in the event of the samples trying to shed off the modifications, a sort of kill switch goes off, resulting in the removal of the modification also removing a vital part of the virus’ genomes.
The release of these vaccines is very recent, so there is no assurance of how these are expected to pan out, but with these new modifications, scientists expect that the vaccines will work much better with a much smaller chance of incidents. Coincidentally, vaccines for the Coronavirus have already begun their deployment in the U.S., the first state to receive non-clinical vaccinations being New York. So while 2021 might be off to a rocky start, it seems like the end of the year might involve more than just an end to one major virus in America’s history.