Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Polio Vaccinations Need A Boost


Polio vaccination team in India. Image: WHO

Scientific American's editorial board strongly believes that the US was wrong to mount a fake hepatitis B vaccination campaign in the effort to kill Osama bin Laden. Apart from moral issues, the blowback from the clandestine effort threatens the global campaign to eradicate polio from the face of the planet.


This year's polio season--the bulk of cases occur in late summer and autumn--will be crucial. Polio still spreads in the wild in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

I downloaded data from the World Health Organization about polio vaccination rates for one-year-olds in those three countries in order to get a better sense of how well their national campaigns are faring. Then I used Excel to chart the information over the past three decades. The closer the world gets to eradication, the more important it is to keep vaccination rates high.

Note that Nigeria's vaccination rates were still climbing--albeit at a slower rate--after a boycott had been organized in the north in 2003. Nevertheless, the increase was not high enough or fast enough to prevent the virus from spreading in the following few years to 20 other countries that had previously been free of polio.

Click on the image below to see a larger version of the chart.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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