The Millions of Polio Sufferers Who Never Existed

The following article remained published on Digital Journal for two weeks and was getting continued links and shares on social media until one day when the site’s editorial staff suddenly decided to remove it; the reason provided was that they have received complaints about the article’s “dubious” sources. What actually happened will be reserved for a follow-up article on professionalism and bias in editorial control of content. The article is reposted below to let readers see the lies and misinformation spared by some polio vaccine proponents.

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If you have heard that millions of people suffered from polio at any time in human history, you need to ask for a reliable source that could be verified on this claim.oral polio vaccine

This month, I apparently became the first writer to publish an article about the safety of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in a major Pakistani newspaper. Not unexpectedly, my article sparked a reaction in readers — what I call “denialists” — who have been religiously following the safe polio vaccine story told over and over by the mainstream media without touching on the serious health risks associated with the same vaccine.

Polio vaccination is heavily promoted in Pakistan via mainstream media and virtually every publishing/broadcast platform available. The OPV, also called Sabin Vaccine, has long been “stopped” or “discontinued” in the developed west. This is owed to the serious health risks including permanent paralysis — conveniently termed vaccine associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) — which is clinically identical to the polio caused by wild poliovirus. In the recent past, OPV has caused outbreaks of paralysis in Nigeria and India (as referenced in my article on Express Tribune). As we speak, it has caused new cases of polio in two more countries — South Sudan and Madagascar.

However, the denialists continue to either deny outright that OPV doesn’t have any such health risks and that the paralysis it can cause is not polio, or they attempt to downplay its health risks in order to favor the vaccination campaigns which are heavily funded by the World Health Organization (WHO). What’s strikingly common is the ignorance of people, including health professionals, regarding the health risks of OPV as well as the lies and myths the vaccination industry has been propagating via media.

One big myth — and that was regurgitated also by a commenter on my post while denying polio vaccination risks — is the number of polio cases. More than once I have heard about “millions” suffering from polio before the polio vaccine was developed. Despite looking up the sources online I never found those “millions of people” infected with polio. Polio cases as quoted in sources were always in the thousands. The maximum number of polio cases (paralytic and non-paralytic) in the US is placed at around 58,000 cases in 1955 as quoted in the 1957 article by David D. Rutstein, M.D., published in The Atlantic. Before that, the number of polio cases kept going up and down, sometimes sharply declining without any vaccination.

These stats given in Dr. Rutstein’s article were reproduced in a recent article by Shahnaz Wazir Ali, published in Express Tribune. While the writer, credited as Technical Coordinator at the Emergency Operation Centre for Polio in Sindh, mentioned the stats, she went onto thank Salk and Sabin for developing vaccines that brought down the incidence of polio in the next five to six years to less than 1,000. She doesn’t appear to have read Rutstein’s article, or she would have mentioned how the doctor specified that polio cases had seen a sharp decline in the U.S. and abroad before the vaccine and particularly in Europe, where there was hardly 20 percent of vaccination, the polio incidence dropped as sharply as in U.S. Thus, as Rutstein admits: “It is, therefore, impossible to tell whether the decrease from 1955 to 1956 in the United States is a result of the polio vaccine program or whether it is just another sharp swing in the usual pattern of the disease.”

Neil Z. Miller wrote a thoroughly investigative and critical article about the safety and efficacy of polio vaccines. He takes into consideration the criteria of diagnosis for polio before the vaccines arrived. As he explains, over the years, polio diagnosis criteria changed and became more specific or narrow to exclude cases of other diseases or infections with similar symptoms as that of polio — aseptic meningitis for example. Prior to the 50s, those cases were just counted as polio.

Nevertheless, there weren’t millions suffering from polio. And the claim that polio vaccine is the one responsible for preventing polio incidence is highly assuming of an achievement that is nearly impossible to scientifically test. Even the “highly infectious” nature of polio is a disputed topic — to say the least — and the readily-seen health effects caused by the Sabin vaccine (as paralysis) as well as possible long-term effects (there are many critics of vaccine believe exist, including cancer) can also not be ignored when claiming success for polio vaccine.

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