More on Polio & the Breakthrough Population

In a previous blog post, I pointed out that there is a case of polio in Rockland County, NY in the orthodox Jewish population. Additionally, Public Health officials have detected polio virus in the wastewater of Rockland County, Orange County and NYC . They suspect that there must be at least 100 asymptomatic patients in that population as well. Certain facts must be clarified regarding the previous blog post.

Prior to polio vaccination, the world was dealing with the wild polio virus . It was transmitted through the fecal oral route. Paralysis and life-threatening illness occurred in 1 out of 200 patients infected. Most individuals did not even know they had it.

With funding and support from the March of Dimes, Jonas Salk, MD , invented the polio vaccine in injectable form. If you received a polio injection you could not transmit the virus to the unvaccinated.

Several years later the oral Saban vaccine was developed. You took this live attenuated virus prep orally – usually on a sugar cube. Since the natural transmission of polio was by the fecal oral route, the Saban oral vaccine produced a better level of immunity but additionally led to shedding of the virus with the potential to infect unvaccinated patients. At the time this was considered advantageous leading to more immunized patients but, as rare symptomatic cases of polio developed from the vaccine, authorities switched back to an injectable vaccine in the USA. The rest of the world did not necessarily follow suit and continued to use the less expensive live attenuated oral vaccine.

The case in Rockland County is felt to be the result of patient exposure to someone shedding the polio virus from an oral vaccination overseas. If that individual had been vaccinated against polio, they would not have contracted the disease and be shedding virus to others.

In an interesting opinion article in the NY Times, Editorial Board Member Jean Interlandi forwards the argument that lack of vaccination is not a religious issue . She has worked extensively with the orthodox community promoting public health issues and believes it is the young mothers and women who need to be educated and encouraged to vaccinate their children, not the rabbi’s who lead the community.

Ms. Interlandi may be correct but local authorities and politicians have made it far too easy for this group of individuals to ignore public health recommendations and reintroduce measles and its complications, whooping cough and now polio. Offering a carrot rather than a stick may be her best advice but, in my opinion, using both options is long overdue.

Health officials agree that if you are vaccinated you are protected against this non wild form of the virus. The solution is to vaccinate the children of Rockland and Orange County against these once eradicated diseases and allow this religious minority to worship as they please if their actions do not bring risk to the rest of the general population. At this time there are no recommendations for polio boosters in adults, immunosuppressed or the elderly populations.

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Will I Be Able to Choose My COVID-19 Vaccine?

There are currently four vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in the pipeline. I have been asked numerous times when am I going to have the vaccine in my office and which vaccine should individuals take? This question was addressed by MedPage Today, an online health care periodical on 11/27/2020. The same question was asked of National Institute of Health “chief” Francis Collins, MD, PhD last week at a press briefing. Dr Collins responded there will not be enough vaccine available in December for the whole country and “people who get offered one should feel quite happy about that.” Leana Wen, MD, of George Washington University responded to the same question saying, “Initially there won’t be nearly enough vaccines for hundreds of millions of Americans. We will probably take whatever we are able to get access to.”

If you are a healthcare worker, or in the more vulnerable groups, you are most likely to be offered one of the nRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNtech or Moderna because they are further along in completing the FDA required trials and application process for approval. Younger healthier individuals having less priority may get to choose.

Larry Corey, MD, a viral expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle and a leader of the COVID-19 Prevention Network Vaccine Program broke down the numbers at a November 18, 2020 meeting of the American Public Health Association and National Academy of Medicine:

  1. The US Government has contracts for 100 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines with production producing the 200 million doses by the spring of 2021. That should cover the highest risk groups including healthcare personnel, nursing home residents, essential workers and the medically vulnerable per the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) guidelines. The vaccine will be shipped to 50 states, the District of Columbia, 8 territories and five large urban health departments including NYC and Chicago. Who receives it first, and where they receive, it will be decided by the local jurisdictions. This process should take until the end of March 2021 leaving some 200 million Americans waiting for a vaccine. Dr. Corey was clear that “We need other vaccines for the rest of the population.”
  2. In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines, there are products from Oxford/AstraZeneca, Janssen/Johnson &Johnson, Merck, Sanofli/Glaxo SmithKline and Novavax. Jay Butler, MD, deputy director for infectious disease at the CDC expects there to be mass vaccinations run by public health agencies and possibly some vaccination programs at community pharmacies. No mention was made of supplying physician offices or clinics.
  3. If there are no major delays, seven different vaccines should be available by the spring of 2021. Naor Bar-Zeev, PhD, of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said it is too soon to compare the products because there are no studies comparing them head-to-head. He reminded us that different vaccines might be better suited for different patient populations with pediatric patients, the elderly, the immunocompromised likely to do better with some and not others.

Despite the lack of detail to date, Moncef Slaoui, MD, head of the federal Operation Warp Speed, told CNN that he expects 70% of the US population to be vaccinated by May 2021.