The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering using an oral polio vaccine for the first time in more than two decades in an effort to stymie a growing outbreak of the disease in the greater New York City metropolitan area, CNBC reported.
“We are in discussions with our New York State and New York City colleagues about the use of nOPV,” Dr. Janell Routh, the CDC’s team leader for domestic polio, told the news outlet on Friday, referencing the novel oral polio vaccine.
“It will be a process. It’s not something that we can pull the trigger on and have it appear overnight. There will be lots of thought and discussion about the reintroduction of an oral polio vaccine into the United States,” she continued.
According to CNBC, the oral polio vaccine was taken out of circulation in 2000 because it contained a weakened but live strain of the virus that can, in rare cases, mutate into a virulent form that can potentially paralyze unvaccinated individuals. The oral vaccine that the CDC is considering is a newer form that is believed to be more stable and possesses less risk of mutation.
In July, New York state officials first detected a case of polio in Rockland County, where an unvaccinated twenty-year-old man developed symptoms of the disease, including paralysis. It was the first known U.S. case in nearly a decade and the first in New York since 1990.
A CDC official said in August the case could suggest that “several hundred cases” exist in that community, as many could be unaware that they are infected. The New York State Department of Health also confirmed that it has detected poliovirus in sewage systems dating back to April.
Once a common virus, polio is largely spread through contaminated water and food or contact with an infected person. Most people with the disease have no symptoms but can still transmit the virus to others for days or weeks.
In some young children, the disease can affect the nerves and cause muscle weakness or paralysis, which can sometimes be fatal. There is no cure, but it is easily preventable by the polio vaccine, which became available in 1955.
During one of the most severe U.S. polio outbreaks in 1952, the virus infected nearly 60,000 people, paralyzed more than 21,000, and killed more than 3,100. In 1979, polio was declared eliminated in the United States, meaning that there was no longer routine spread.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.