Polio vaccine not very ‘universal,’ new research suggests

Drugmakers are increasingly pitching polio vaccines as a “universal” vaccine that can protect against all forms of the disease, even if a patient’s immune system has a weakened response. New research published this week…

Polio vaccine not very ‘universal,’ new research suggests

Drugmakers are increasingly pitching polio vaccines as a “universal” vaccine that can protect against all forms of the disease, even if a patient’s immune system has a weakened response. New research published this week suggests that may not be the case.

Pfizer and BioNTech had promoted their new vaccine COVID-19 as a way to block the disease’s transmission to people from infected hosts such as birds. After receiving the vaccine, the researchers found, two groups of study participants became infected with a highly lethal polio virus, while only the first group of study participants was protected.

The vaccine does not protect against other viruses, including some that cause smallpox, nor does it prevent polio within the original host, the researchers said. Vaccine effectiveness against the two strains of virus that make up the polio virus was much lower than expected, and only protected half the recipients to one out of three.

“This is a very serious vaccine that’s not performing as expected,” study co-author Jacob Michalski, a virologist at the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement. “We never really expected this vaccine to work at all. And the discrepancy could have major implications for vaccine programs around the world.”

Worldwide, more than a million cases of polio are reported every year. A vaccine against the virus began circulating in West Africa decades ago, but only the last three doses were given before interrupting transmission in 2000. Epidemics have since reemerged in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Scientists haven’t managed to find a vaccine that’s effective in Africa where the disease is still prevalent and where children are largely unvaccinated.

Health officials still consider the area a vaccine-preventable region, but have recommended that children who have not received the vaccine for polio must be vaccinated against other diseases before they go back to school, in case the virus reemerges.

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