India Has Successfully Defeated Polio

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

An Indian medical volunteer administers polio immunization drops to a child at a railway station in Allahabad, India, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014

On Monday, Indian officials announced that no polio cases had been reported in the country for a third consecutive year — a major milestone for the country’s efforts to entirely eliminate a disease through mass vaccinations for the first time since the eradication of small pox in 1980.

The achievement means the World Health Organization (WHO) will soon declare India, largely considered the most difficult country in which to eliminate polio, as having officially eradicated the virus. India’s success required the government, NGOs, doctors, social workers, and community groups to band together to administer polio vaccines and educate people on proper sanitation techniques throughout the country of over one billion.

Immunization campaigns got a major boost in 2010 when a stronger oral polio vaccine that protected against an additional strain of the virus was released. Just one case was reported the following year, as opposed to 741 the year before.

However, polio still remains endemic in certain countries like Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, where most people still don’t have easy access to vaccinations. The disease also re-emerged in war-torn Syria last fall, an outbreak that necessitated an emergency mass immunization campaign that appears to have stymied the virus’ spread.

Over a dozen of the most common infectious diseases, including diptheria, rubella, mumps, and measles, have been practically eradicated in the U.S. since the creation of vaccines 200 years ago, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But anti-vaccine campaigns led by activists such as Jenny McCarthy have taken hold among some U.S. parents who assume it’s healthier to avoid inoculating their kids.

Rejecting vaccines can have deadly public health consequences. A famously debunked 1990s study claiming that the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine (MMR) caused autism led to a massive outbreak of measles among British teenagers whose parents had never vaccinated them last year. A separate 2013 measles outbreak in Texas was linked to a pastor who used her evangelical megachurch as a soap box for promoting scientifically spurious anti-vaccine propaganda.