News / Health

Study Reveals Chink in Polio Vaccine’s Armor

A boy suffering from polio crawls beside his braces in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 29, 2011.
A boy suffering from polio crawls beside his braces in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 29, 2011.

A mutated polio virus that slipped through vaccine defenses caused an unusually lethal outbreak in the Republic of Congo in 2010, according to a new study. 

An intensive vaccination campaign was able to stop the virus. 

But the authors say their research shows new and dangerous strains may emerge as polio eradication nears, and high rates of vaccination are the best available protection.

Weaker vaccine

Polio usually paralyzes its victims. It is not typically fatal. But in the Republic of Congo outbreak, nearly half of the 445 people who got sick with the virus died. 

Health workers were especially concerned because about half of the patients remembered having been vaccinated. 

“That made it even more bizarre, because if they had been vaccinated, they shouldn’t be sick,” said virologist Felix Drexler at the University of Bonn.

When Drexler and colleagues in Europe and Africa studied the virus, they found it had some never-before-seen mutations in a critical part of its outer coat. Those mutations were in the place where antibodies that fight the virus would normally attach.

“We thought, ‘Wow, maybe that could affect the ability of the antibodies in human blood to neutralize the virus,’” Drexler said. 

It did. When they tested the virus in Germany against blood samples from people with better-than-average vaccination coverage, they found that 15 to 29 percent of them would not be protected from the mutant strain.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Virus stopped

The Republic of Congo had been polio free before the outbreak. It took four nationwide immunization drives targeting every man, woman and child to stop the mutated virus. 

Drexler said the effort worked because just about everyone got vaccinated with the most potent form of the vaccine. 

The virus has not been seen since, though Drexler said it’s possible it’s still lurking out there somewhere. And, he added, there may be others that also can evade the vaccine's protection. 

Experts say polio eradication is in its final stages. There have been fewer than 150 cases anywhere in the world this year, and the virus is found regularly in just three countries. 

Good enough?

But, Drexler noted, “The question that the experts are asking is, 'Is the vaccine good enough to enable us to eradicate poliovirus?'”

Virologist Olen Kew with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is. He was not involved with this study. He noted that the vaccine has eliminated the virus everywhere it has been used.

“What happened in Congo was, it hadn’t been used for quite a long period of time and a susceptible group opened up,” he said. Civil unrest disrupted vaccination campaigns in the 1990s and early 2000s. “And when the virus was introduced, it had devastating effects.”

Kew said the reason the virus was so deadly was because the susceptible group was young adults, not the children who are usually affected. 

“It’s been known for a long time that older age groups, once they get infected, can have more severe disease than younger children,” he said.

Associate Director Walt Orenstein at the Emory Vaccine Center, who was also not involved in the study, said more potent vaccines would be helpful to protect against mutated viruses.

However, he added, “I think the most important message, to me, is, we need to push hard and push fast and terminate transmission as quickly as possible, in which case this becomes irrelevant.”

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: eusebio from: Portugal
August 20, 2014 12:42 PM
Stop Pólio in DRCongo sustainable solutions in the areas of the fight against Pólio

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs