• Dr Michael Oehley

Polio Outbreak and Anti-Vaxxers

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

Travellers to popular destinations like Bali, Indonesia and East African safari destinations such as Kenya may be surprised to hear that a polio vaccination is now a requirement for departing the country in several nations - see the latest statement from the C.D.C. here. This is because polio a disease that was almost eradicated worldwide in the early 2000s, is making a determined comeback across the globe.

First it was Venezuela, where collapse of the socialist government brought with a complete breakdown of their healthcare system. Then, more recently, polio has re-emerged in Papua New Guinea after a 16 year hiatus. Now there are outbreaks across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to go with the fact that polio has never completely been eradicated in Afghanistan or Nigeria.

Why is this relevant to Anti-Vaxxers? Well, it's one thing for them to 'choose' not to vaccinate their children when herd immunity (from the majority of the population whose responsible parents have had their kids vaccinated) is strong. But when herd immunity starts to fail, as is happening across the world with polio, their un-vaccinated children become potential carriers and vectors of disease who can infect others - particularly the weak and vulnerable (newborn babies, the elderly, people with cancer or other forms of immune suppression).

Like most health professionals I have spent years on my medical education - 13 years in total (medical school, a post-graduate diploma, a Fellowship with a College of specialist G.P.s, and other continuing medical education). I often wonder what compels people to decide that they 'know better than the experts' just because they've read a few dodgy articles on Facebook, mumsnet, or elsewhere on the internet.

The analogy I would use to explain why doctors and nurses can be trusted on the safety of vaccines (and their importance) is this - if you want tax advice, you ask your accountant (not Google). If you want a plumber to unblock your drain, you hire a plumber (not Google). If you need a highway built that is safe and lasting, you hire a team of expert civil engineers (not Google). So if you are seeking the best health for yourself and your children - you ask a doctor or a nurse (not Google!)

I am not going to convince any of the anti-vaxxers in this short blog, but I do urge people to start spreading positive immunisation messages. A global recurrence of former pandemic diseases such as polio is not such an outlandish concept anymore. Perhaps what the anti-vaxxers don't know (and certainly don't remember) is that before the arrival of polio vaccine in the 1950s is that hospitals used to have huge wards full of 'iron lungs' - massive metal respirators to help polio victims breathe. See images here.

Do we want our children breathing by machine again? I think not. Get your children immunised, anti-vax parents, or you put the entire population at risk.

Image courtesy of Polio Canada, sourced from


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