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‘Vaccine-Derived Poliovirus’ Is The Next Public Health Issue You Can’t Talk About

Polio is making a reemergence in the wastewater of America. What’s causing it, and what happens next?


Polio, a virus once thought to be a thing of the past, recently reemerged in New York state’s wastewater. Politico helpfully explained that this recent emergence is, in fact, a form of “vaccine-derived poliovirus.” And the term, while technically true, is “particularly inartful and confusing” and ought not to be used. As Yale School of Medicine puts it, “there’s a lot of nuance” on the issue. To translate from public health jargon to plain English, this means: Get it out of your system now because you’ll likely be banned from social media for using it by next month. 

So what is vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) anyway, and is it something you need to worry about? Here are some key takeaways.

Spread by the Vaccinated to the Unvaccinated

There are two kinds of vaccines against polio. One, given via injection, uses an inactivated virus and is known as IPV. The other is an oral vaccine, using a weakened but not fully inactivated strain, and is known as OPV. OPV, the original polio vaccine you might remember getting if you’re of a certain age, was widely used in America for decades. It is cheap, easy for anyone to administer, and provides strong protection against the virus. However, since it was not inactivated, it could cause paralytic polio in some recipients and was not safe to administer to the immune-compromised nor their close contacts. Due to these problems, America, like most Western nations, transitioned to the safer, inactivated IPV vaccine injection decades ago. 

As our overworked fact-checkers are learning to their unease, it turns out there’s another big problem with the OPV vaccine: vaccine-derived polioviruses. When immunodeficient people are exposed to the weakened OPV version of the disease, the virus can stay in their gut for years, slowly mutating into new strands, which can then emerge and spread to infect others. 

The good news? If your children have been vaccinated against polio with IPV, they are safe from any scary polio symptoms even when the oral-vaccine-derived variants show up in your town.  A frightening reemergence of polio is unlikely in America as long as traditional childhood vaccination rates hold steady. On the other hand, considering that we are facing a catastrophic loss of trust in the public health community due to a long train of abuses, such as the scary push to inflict unnecessary experimental vaccines on children, we may not be able to count on those traditional vaccination rates holding up for long.   

However, even if you got the short straw and live in a country whose public health authorities are notoriously incompetent, chances are you’ll be safe. Why?

Spread Only from Poor Countries

Thankfully, all advanced countries adopted the inactive IPV vaccine ages ago, so there is no threat of OPV vaccine-derived variants hanging around to cause problems, even if vaccination rates in those countries do decline. The only nations that still use the OPV vaccine are the undeveloped ones, as it is much cheaper and requires much less medical infrastructure to administer. Current nations using OPV and at risk of developing vaccine-derived polioviruses include places such as Afghanistan and Yemen.  

Considering that there is now growing worldwide awareness about the spread of these vaccine-derived variants, you have nothing to worry about: Any responsible country will, of course, zealously guard its borders to ensure that travelers from these countries are carefully screened before entry. 

In sum, the only conceivable scenario in which the long-forgotten scourge of polio could reemerge in America would be some sort of dystopian convergence of elite mismanagement: a vaccine spokesmen credibility crisis combined with wide-open borders. Sound familiar?

On the bright side, polio is spread through the fecal-oral route. So if it does come to your neighborhood, you won’t need to wear a mask.

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