This past January marked the one-year anniversary since a new case of polio was reported in India. In the global struggle to make polio the second eradicated disease ever (the first was smallpox in 1979), the one-year mark is crucially important. One year without any new polio cases allows the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare India to no longer be polio endemic (i.e. the disease is not still circulating in the population). Three years without any new polio cases are needed for a country to officially be declared polio-free. Now only three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria – remain polio endemic; unfortunately, due to political and religious motivations, this status is unlikely to change any time soon.
Well, any good news in the vaccine world is not without some hate from the anti-vaxxers. A recent article from Natural News has been making the rounds on the anti-vaccination sites. For those who don’t know what Natural News is: it is a haven for all things pseudoscience including homeopathy, anti-vaccination, and alternative medicine. For example, two recent articles claim that vitamin D cures cancer and that the recent shooting in Colorado at the Dark Knight Rises premiere was fake.
The relevant Natural News article, “Study: Polio vaccine campaign in India has caused 12-fold increase in deadly paralysis condition”, discusses a recent study from the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics that analyzes a recent, disturbing rise in cases of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP). However, there seems to be some disconnect between the study and the news article. I will discuss this disconnect, as well as the blatant misunderstanding of the Indian study, below.
NPAFP is a syndrome that is characterized by a rapid onset of muscular weakness or paralysis that can prove to be fatal if respiratory muscles are affected. AFP itself is often a symptom of polio, but these reported cases of non-polio AFP occurred in people who were already vaccinated. The study reported that in 2011 there were over 47,000 new cases of NPAFP, twelve times higher than expected. So, why this huge rise?
Well, a careful reading of the study reveals a startling fact: people with NPAFP are receiving a dangerous amount of doses of the OPV (oral polio vaccine) than is mandated by the WHO guidelines.
The article writes:
“In the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar, which have pulse polio rounds nearly every month, the non-polio AFP rate is 25- and 35-fold higher than the international norms. The relationship of the non-polio AFP rate is curvilinear with a more steep increase beyond six doses of OPV in one year.”
So, places with more than six does of the OPV per year exhibit higher rates of NPAFP. Thus, it follows that places that receive up to 12(!) doses of the OPV per year have the highest rates of NPAFP. I was curious, so I went to the WHO website to see what they had to say. Here’s what the WHO guidelines state:
“The primary series of 3 OPV vaccinations should be administered according to the schedules of national immunization programmes, for example at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 14 weeks, or at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. In addition, a birth dose should be given as soon as possible after birth when the potential for poliovirus importation is very high or high and the transmission potential is high or moderate”
The WHO recommends only 3 doses of the vaccine (4 at high risk areas), and the study found that six doses or DOUBLE the accepted amount is correlated with higher rates of NPFAP. Well, duh! Taking double the recommended amount of any medicne would be harmful, and apparently so too with vaccines. It also should have been readily clear that something was amiss about the NPAFP rise since such an increase has not been reported in any other country. If regular usage of OPV was indeed the cause of NPAFP, one would expect to see a similar rise throughout the world. Unfortunately, the study does not explain why Indian engages in this obviously dangerous vaccination program and for the life of me, I cannot fathom a reason why 6+ doses of the vaccine could possibly be needed.
The study goes on to criticize the total cost for Indian (2.5$ billion USD) for the polio vaccination program. They suggest that the money could have been better spent since the vaccination program resulted in so many cases of NPAFP:
“It is tempting to speculate what could have been achieved if the $2.5 billion spent on attempting to eradicate polio were spent on water and sanitation and routine immunization”
The thing is, they WERE funding routine immunization. But they were also funding hundreds of thousands of unnecessary and dangerous vaccinations. The authors continue:
“The huge costs of repeated rounds of OPV in terms of money and non-polio AFP shows that monthly administration of OPV must cease. The low incidence of non-polio AFP in places given less than six doses, suggests that routine immunisation is relatively safe.”
This is the crux of the whole paper: proper immunization schedules are safe and cost effective, while exceeding the WHO guidelines for OPV administration is unsafe and costly. Makes sense.
The aforementioned disconnect between Natural News and this study is that the news article blatantly misreports the main findings of the study. Nowhere in the whole article does it mention the fact that it was excessive vaccinations that cause NPAFP; instead, they make it seem like a single vaccine could cause NPAFP. I guess I should not have expected anything except for blatant deception from Natural News.