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End game in the battle against polio?

End game in the battle against polio?

Posted 2/16/2015

1963 US poster for the oral polio vaccine 1963 US poster for the oral polio vaccine Friday, 13 February 2015 was hopefully a lucky day for those engaged in the ongoing struggle to eradicate poliomyelitis.

A meeting of great minds at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose announced their latest efforts in developing a "designer" polio vaccine. Their hope is that the new vaccine will effectively target polio without suffering some of the downsides of the existing oral vaccine.

This news comes just a few days after Somalia was declared polio-free for 6 months. Polio is now endemic in only three countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistain - although Nigeria has also been clear of the disease for over half a year. A new vaccine could help consign it to history for good.

As reported in the BBC and Independent, a joint UK and US team are working to develop an artificial vaccine that could replace the oral vaccine used in countries where polio is still a significant threat. The oral vaccine uses a weakened version of the virus and it is possible, though rare, for someone who has been vaccinated to pass the virus on to others.

A synthetic vaccine would contain no genome so would have no way of replicating and infecting anyone else.

It is important to realise that the injected polio vaccine is inactive and does not suffer from this transmission risk, nor is it a feature of the vast majority of vaccines. This inactive vaccine is the one used in countries such as the UK and US where there is no wild polio virus.

Here's wishing the team, particularly the British contingent, the best of luck in their work!

Learn more about polio, post-polio syndrome and polio immunisation in the UK at NHS Choices