Researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have found a new vaccine for polio, which is approximately 30% more effective than commonly used vaccinations. In fact, it is believed to be so effective as to potentially eradicate polio.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, Director of the WHO’s Polio Eradication Initiative, has called this new vaccine a “game changer” in the fight against this disease.
The fight started in earnest in 1988, when efforts to eradicate polio began to produce significant results. The development of a ‘trivalent’ form of the vaccine targeted all three viral subtypes; mass vaccination led to a marked reduction in the number of countries with endemic polio. Whereas in 1988 this comprised 125 countries, today there are only 4.
The global vaccination campaign has reduced the number of poliomyelitis cases from around 350,000 in 1988 to just 1,606 in 2009. The four remaining countries in which the virus continues to wreak havoc are India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Researchers hope that the new ‘bivalent’ vaccine will provide the final push needed by these countries. The vaccination is taken orally and targets two of the three subtypes—subtypes 1 and 3—that still pose a problem. A WHO study found that the bivalent vaccine is actually 30-40% more effective than the trivalent vaccine.
In order to eradicate it, vaccination must be continued for several years after the last confirmed case. Researchers are optimistic, but do worry that there may still be funding shortages for the final stretch in eradicating polio.