Tag Archives: vaccine

Child Paralyzed by Vaccine-Derived Polio

By Kim Smiley

There has been amazing progress in the effort to eradicate polio, but recent cases of the disease are a harsh reminder that the work isn’t complete and now isn’t the time to be complacent.  Public health officials are planning three mass vaccination rounds in less than 120 days after a child was recently paralyzed by polio in Mali.  In addition to this case, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that two children in western Ukraine were also paralyzed by polio.

The last case of polio was detected in Mali in 2011.  A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be used to analyze how the child contracted polio as well as help in understanding the overall impacts of this case.  The first step in a Cause Map is to fill in an outline with the basic background information, including listing how the issue impacts the different overall goals.  This issue, like most, impacts more than a single goal.  For example, the child being paralyzed is an impact to the patient safety goal, but the potential for an outbreak of polio is an impact to the public safety goal.

Once the impacts to the goals are defined, the Cause Map itself is built by asking “why” questions and including the answers in cause boxes.  The Cause Map visually lays out all the cause-and-effect relationships that contributed to an issue.  So why was the child paralyzed?  The child was infected with vaccine-derived polio because he was exposed to the disease and wasn’t immune to it, likely because he didn’t receive all four of the required doses of vaccine.  Vaccine rates in Guinea, where the child was from, dropped during the Ebola outbreak.

In this region of the world, oral polio vaccine is used and it contains weakened, but live, strains of polio virus.  After being administered oral polio vaccine, a child will excrete live virus for a period of time.  The live virus can replicate in the environment and there is the potential for it to mutate into a more dangerous form of polio, which is what causes vaccine-derived polio.

Cases of vaccine-derived polio are very rare, but are a known risk of using oral polio vaccine.  The injectable vaccine uses dead polio virus that cannot mutate, but there are other important factors that come into play.  The oral polio vaccine is cheaper and is simpler to administer than the injectable vaccine because medical professionals are needed to give injections.

The use of oral vaccines also eliminates the risk of spreading blood borne illnesses.  Because there are no needles involved, there is no risk of needles being shared between patients.  The oral vaccine also provides greater protection for the community as a whole, especially in regions with poor sanitation.  When a child is fully immunized with the oral polio vaccine this ensures immunity in the gut so that the polio virus is not excreted after exposure.  This is not true with the injectable polio vaccine; an immunized child exposed to “wild” polio would not be infected, but may still excrete polio virus after exposure and potentially spread it to others.  One negative of using the oral polio vaccine is that in rare cases (estimated to be about one in about 2.7 million) the weakened polio virus can cause paralysis in a child receiving their first dose of the vaccine.  Concern over paralysis is one of the reasons that developed nations generally use the injectable polio vaccine.

Polio is highly contagious and public health officials are planning an aggressive vaccine campaign to reduce the risk of an outbreak now that a case of polio has been verified in Mali. The plan is to have three mass vaccination rounds in less than 120 days, a level of effort aided by the many World Health Organization and United Nations staff that are still in the area as part of the response to the Ebola outbreak.  Thankfully, Guinea has not reported any cases of Ebola for several months so officials can devote significant resources to the mass polio vaccine effort.

New study finds that cholera vaccine helps protect community

By Kim Smiley

There are an estimated 3 to 5 million cases of cholera worldwide each year, believed to cause more than 100,000 deaths annually.  Cholera is rare in developed nations, but has been pandemic in Asia, Africa and Latin America for decades.  Researchers continue to search for an effective method to prevent cholera outbreaks.  A recent study found that a cheap oral vaccine is an effective tool to help prevent the spread of cholera.  The vaccine is not a perfect solution, but the study found that when two-thirds of the population was given the vaccine, cholera infections in an urban slum were reduced by nearly 40 percent.

The problem of cholera infections can be analyzed by building a Cause Map.  A Cause Map is a visual root cause analysis that intuitively lays out the cause-and-effect relationships of the multiple causes that contribute to an issue.  A Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and documenting the answers in cause boxes.  To see how a Cause Map of this issue could be built, click on “Download PDF” above.

So why are so many people infected with cholera each year? Cholera is not generally passed from person to person and is predominantly spread through drinking water contaminated with cholera bacterium.  The feces of an infected individual carry cholera bacterium.  Cholera outbreaks occur in areas where there is a person infected with cholera in a location with poor sanitation infrastructure and inadequate water treatment.

Many efforts to reduce the number of cholera cases have focused on providing clean drinking water and providing sanitization equipment.  A recent study looked at three populations in Bangladesh: one was only given the vaccine, the second was given the vaccine, a hand-washing station and taught how to sterilize drinking water, and no intervention was done on the third population. The results showed that the vaccine alone was nearly as effective at preventing cholera as providing the vaccine along with a hand-washing station and instructions on sterilizing drinking water.  In the study, people were given two doses of the vaccine which costs about $3.70.

In an ideal world everyone would have access to clean, safe drinking water, but the resources required to build the needed infrastructure are not likely to be available any time in the near future.  Having a relatively cheap vaccine that is proven to slow the spread of cholera during an outbreak should prove to be a powerful tool in situations where access to clean water is limited.

Measles Vaccine Provides Multiple Protections

By ThinkReliability Staff

For previously unknown reasons, children who received the measles vaccine were less likely to die from infectious diseases other than measles.   According to Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University, the difference is significant.  “In some developing countries, where infectious diseases are very high, the reduction in mortality has been up to 80 percent.  So it’s really been a mystery – why do children stop dying at such high rates from all these different infections following introduction of the measles vaccine?”

Based on epidemiological data from countries before and after the measles vaccine was introduced, scientists believe they may have an explanation for this mystery that is part correlation and part causation.  So what’s the difference (and why do we care)?

Correlation means that two or more events tend to occur about the same time and might be associated with each other, but aren’t necessarily connected by a cause-and-effect relationship.  Causation means that a specific action causes a second event to happen.  A cause-and-effect relationship results from causation.   Sometimes it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.  This is where the importance of evidence comes in.

In this case, part of the decrease in death due to infectious diseases can be considered due to correlation.  In this case, children who received the measles vaccine must have had access to healthcare, including the measles vaccine.  If they received the measles vaccine, they were also likely to receive other vaccines and treatment for other infectious diseases, meaning their death rates from other diseases were also lower.  The measles vaccine did not cause the reduction in deaths from infectious diseases, the access to healthcare did.  Getting the measles vaccine also resulted from the same cause, access to healthcare.

In addition to this correlation, epidemiological data from several countries from prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine shows that the number of measles cases predicted the number of deaths from other infectious diseases two to three years later.  Their hypothesis, supported by studies in monkeys, suggest that the measles virus actually erases immune protection to other diseases.  So, if a child gets measles, he or she loses some of the immune system’s “memory” of how to fight diseases can also be wiped out.  Preventing a child from getting the measles (by getting a measles vaccine) is believed to prevent deaths from other infectious diseases as well.

Although more testing is needed to verify the causation, scientists hope it will provide more evidence for parents to vaccinate their children.  Epidemiologist William Moss, who studies the vaccine at John Hopkins University, says “The reduction in overall child mortality that follows measles vaccination is much greater than previously believed.  I think this paper will provide additional evidence – if it’s needed – of the public health benefits of measles vaccine.  That’s an important message in the U.S. right now and in countries continuing to see measles outbreaks.”

To view the cause-and-effect relationships (both correlation and causation) between the measles vaccine and decreased mortality from childhood infectious diseases, please click on “Download PDF” above.  To learn more about the epidemiological study, click here.

This year’s flu vaccine only about 23% effective

By Kim Smiley

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine for the 2014-2015 flu season is only about 23% effective among people of all ages.  While the flu vaccine is not perfect, the effectiveness is generally closer to 60% percent.

So what made this year different?  Why is the flu vaccine so much less effective than what has been previously observed?  The short answer is that creating a flu vaccine is not an exact science and that the experts’ best guess of which flu strains would be the most common wasn’t as good this year.

One of the reasons that a flu vaccine is needed each year while many vaccines (like the MMR vaccine) aren’t is that the flu virus changes relatively quickly.  The strains of flu that are circulating generally morph from year to year and a new vaccine is needed to protect against them.  The lag time inherent in developing a new vaccine also makes attacking this moving target  difficult.  It just takes time to develop a new vaccine that needs to be tested, manufactured and distributed to millions of people.  Companies need about six months to manufacture vaccines in the quantities required so the process of developing a new flu vaccine begins long before the predicted start of the flu season.

Every year there are hundreds of different strains of flu circulating and flu vaccines contain antigens for only 3 or 4 specific strains. Deciding which strains to include in the vaccine each year is not a simple cut and dry decision. Scientists monitor which strains of flu are circulating worldwide and use that data to select which strains to include in the vaccine, but it is difficult to predict how the virus will change months out.  The button line is that sometimes the flu virus changes unexpectedly and the vaccine ends up being less effective, as it did this year when the specific type of H3N2 virus included in the vaccine morphed after the development of the vaccine.

The question of how to prevent a similar problem in the future is tricky and doesn’t have simple answers.  There are scientists working to develop antigens that would respond to a part of the flu virus that doesn’t change, which could potentially lead to a longer lasting flu vaccine.  Until then the best way you can protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine each year. The CDC still recommends people receive the vaccine this year, even with the lower effectiveness, because it does offer some protection against the flu.

And wash your hands often with soap…that is always the simplest way to reduce the spread of disease.

To view a high level Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak: What you Need to Know

By ThinkReliability Staff

About 100 people, including 5 Disney theme park employees, have been infected with measles after an outbreak centering around the Disney theme parks in California. According to Disney, those 5 employees have returned to work, along with other exposed employees who have proved immunity against the disease. Because the Disney theme parts are so popular with people all over the world, measles has now been found in at least 10 other counties and 5 other states in the U.S. Says Dr. James Cherry, pediatric infectious diseases expert at UCLA, “Disneyland – this is the ideal scenario. This is sort of the perfect storm. People go to Disneyland, and they went from all different counties and all different states.”

Why measles, and why now?

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there were an average of 88 cases a year of measles between 2001 and 2013. (Measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000.) In 2014, there were 644 cases in 23 separate outbreaks.   Although measles is eliminated in the US, “Travelers to areas where measles is endemic can bring measles back to the US, resulting in limited domestic transmission of measles,” according to a California Department of Public Health statement.

Once measles has entered an area, it can spread quickly. Says Matt Zahn, Orange County Health Care Agency medical director, “Measles spreads very easily by air and by direct contact. Simply being in the same room with someone who has measles is sufficient to become infected.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “Measles is so contagious, that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” Additionally, the measles virus can remain “active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours,” says the CDC. That 90% makes measles “one of the most infectious or transmissible viruses that we’re aware of,” says a Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Decreasing vaccination levels in Orange County, where the outbreak is centered, are fueling the spread of the disease. In 2006, 95% of California kindergartners were fully vaccinated for measles. Now, only 92.6% are. Local officials say the outbreak involves a significant number of people who were not immunized, either by choice or because they are too young (measles vaccines are administered starting at 12 months old) or who have other health issues precluding vaccination.

Vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine (which includes immunization against measles) have been dropping, due to increasing concerns about side effects from vaccines and decreasing concerns about the disease itself. (Click here to read our previous blog about this issue.) Says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “The development of the measles vaccination and the elimination of measles from this country several years ago, until it bounced back no with these outbreaks, was really a triumph in medical public health endeavor. Good vaccinations, in some respects paradoxically, are victims of their own success. Now that we don’t see a lot of measles, the scare of the difficulty and the seriousness of it is not on people’s radar screen. It gets back on their radar screen when you see what is going on right now throughout the country, which could be completely avoidable if people had vaccinated their children.”

Who is at risk?

According to Orange County Health Agency Spokesperson Deanne Thompson, “It is at large in the community now, and particularly infants too young to be immunized, people with other health conditions and, of course, people who aren’t immunized need to be very concerned. [They] really should rethink that and consider getting vaccinated.”

Anyone who has not been vaccinated for measles is particularly at risk, and California state officials have warned those who have not been vaccinated or are otherwise immune to measles to stay away from the theme parks. It is possible that those who have received the vaccine can also get the disease, though it is far less likely.

What should you do?

“The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Ron Chapman, director of California Department of Public Health. If that isn’t possible, at this point, it is recommended to stay away from the Disney theme parks in California until the outbreak is over. If you are taking your baby out of the country, the CDC recommends vaccination at 6 months for measles. If your child does get the measles, keep in mind that’s it not something that doctors today have seen frequently, or possibly at all. The CDC is making an effort to educate physicians. Says Jane Seward, the deputy director of the Division of Viral Diseases for the CDC, “We’ve really tried to hammer home the message that if you see somebody with a febrile rash illness, ask them if they’ve gone overseas, ask them about measles in their community, and ask them about their vaccination status. Think of measles.”

To view a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, of this outbreak, click on “Download PDF” above.  To learn more about this issue, click here.

Students Will Receive a Meningitis Vaccine Not Yet Approved in the US

By ThinkReliability Staff

In an unusual move, on November 16, 2013 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the importation and use of a vaccine not yet approved in the US to attempt to minimize the spread of a rarer – and more difficult to prevent – strain of meningitis on a college campus.

Information about the outbreak, including the effects, causes, and recommended solutions, can be captured in a Cause Map, or visual form of root cause analysis.  This method of problem-solving begins by capturing the background information on the event, then determining the impact of the event on the organization’s goals.

The outbreak began at Princeton University in March of this year.  Meningitis outbreaks can be more common at college campuses because of the close living quarters.  The specific strain involved is known as serogroup, or type B, which has been more difficult to create a vaccine against because the coating on the bacteria is different than that from other types, for which a vaccine was developed in 2005.  Since that vaccine, the number of cases of meningitis on college campuses has declined, though there were 160 cases of B strain meningitis in the US last year.  (In the US, B strain is rarer than other types.)  This is the first outbreak of B strain meningitis in the world since the vaccine was approved.

This outbreak has impacted the safety goal, as the potential for serious injuries and fatalities is high.  The spread of meningitis can be considered an impact to the environmental goal, and the customer service goal is impacted by students being sickened by meningitis.  Treatment and vaccination are an impact to the labor/time goal.

Beginning with the impacted goals and asking “why” questions develops the cause-and-effect relationships related to the incident.  In this case, the outbreak resulted from the spread of meningitis due to coughing or contact among the close quarters common on a college campus, and the fact that students were not vaccinated against this particular strain of meningitis.  A vaccine for the B strain of meningitis has not yet been approved in the US as it was recently developed, although it was approved for use in Europe and Australia earlier this year.  Developing a vaccine for the B strain was difficult (it took over 20 years) because of the differences in bacteria coating from other strains.

Though the vaccine has not been approved for general use in the US, the FDA and Princeton University officials determined that the prevention benefits outweigh the risk of its use.  Specifically, students at Princeton will be offered two doses of the vaccine, paid for by the university.  The vaccines are not mandatory.  In addition, students are being reminded to wash their hands, cover their mouths while coughing, and not to share personal items.  It’s also hoped that holiday travels will end the outbreak as students disperse, though it’s also possible that the travel could spread the disease, though this is considered highly unlikely by health officials.   Time will tell if these actions are adequate to stop the spread on campus.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

RISK: Vaccines vs. Disease

By ThinkReliability Staff

Although endemic transmission of measles has been considered “interrupted by vaccination” in the United States, a recent measles outbreak has brought to the forefront the risks of not getting vaccinated.  A member of a church in Texas, who had not received the full measles vaccination, traveled to Indonesia, an area where measles is still endemic.  The disease, which is easily spread in close contact, then infected at least 20 other members of his church, which has concerns about the risks of vaccination, especially bundled vaccinations like the MMR (measles/ mumps/ rubella) vaccine.

In recent years, people have been increasingly concerned about the risks of vaccination.  One of the main concerns with the MMR vaccine is its purported link to autism (which was first mentioned in a 1998 study that has been mostly discredited).  There are, of course, risks to vaccination for any disease.  According to the CDC, risks from the MMR vaccine include mild problems, such as fever (up to 1 person out of 6), mild rash (up to 1 person out of 20) and very rare severe problems, such as allergic reactions (which occur in less than 1 out of a million doses).

However, as the CDC notes “The risk of the MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.  Getting the MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”  This brings us to the other side of the equation.  People who do not get vaccinated for these diseases face the risks of getting the disease.  According to Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “There are only two ways you can develop specific immunity, either be infected by the natural virus or be immunized.  A choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice, It’s a choice to take a different and more serious risk.”

Because transmission of measles had been considered effectively stopped in the US, not vaccinating may have seemed like a minor risk.  After all, there are some people who cannot receive the vaccine.  This includes young children, pregnant women, and those who may be suffering from other health concerns.  These people have generally been protected by “herd immunity”.   This refers to the unlikelihood of getting measles when a very high percentage of the population is vaccinated against it.

However, in recent years, the number of people choosing not to get vaccinated has been increasing.  Sometimes these people are clustered geographically, such as within a church that has expressed its concerns about vaccinations (as in the recent outbreak in Texas).  When unvaccinated persons travel to an area that has not made as much progress towards eradicating disease, the likelihood of disease spreading is much higher.

This is true for other diseases as well.  The Texas Department of State Health Services has recently released a health alert regarding vaccination against pertussis (whooping cough) after more than 2,000 cases this year, including two deaths of infants too young to be vaccinated..  Says Dr. Lisa Cornelius, the Department’s infectious diseases medical officer, “This is extremely concerning.  If cases continue to be diagnosed at the current rate, we will see the most Texas cases since the 1950s.”

Although the potential risk of a vaccine may seem frightening, it is important to ensure that everyone in your family is fully vaccinated.  Not only will this provide the best protection for each of you, it will also provide protection to those members of your community who cannot be vaccinated, and limit the spread of these diseases.  Some communities are experiencing this the hard way. The Texas church involved in the outbreak has begun offering vaccination clinics for its members to attempt and stop the outbreak and protect against another one.

You can view the Outline and Cause Map discussing this issue by clicking “Download PDF” above.

US Stockpiles Smallpox Medicine, Fear of Bioterrorism

By Kim Smiley

The last case of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949, but the government recently made headlines for spending $463 million on enough medicine to treat two million people infected with the disease.  It is feared that the deadly and disfiguring disease could be used by bioterrorists and the government wanted to be prepared in the event of an attack.

The concern that smallpox could be used for bioterrorism can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis.  The first step is to fill in an Outline with the background information for the problem and determine which goals are impacted.  In this example, the safety goal is impacted because there is a chance of many deaths if smallpox is released, the financial goal is impacted because hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on treatment for smallpox and the customer service goal is impacted because people are nervous about the potential for smallpox bioterrorism.  Once the impacts to the goals are determined, the Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions.

Why is there a potential for many deaths?  This is true because there is the potential that a smallpox outbreak could happen, many are unprotected against smallpox, and smallpox is a very deadly, highly contagious disease.  An outbreak could occur if bioterrorists released smallpox because the virus still exists in research labs in the US and Russia.  Advances in the genetic field have also opened the possibility that the smallpox virus could be  re-engineered and essentially created in a lab anywhere in the world.   Many people are unprotected against smallpox because the vaccination program ended in 1980 when it was eradicated.  People vaccinated prior to 1980 likely maintain some level of protection from smallpox, but the effectiveness of the vaccine degrades over time and they are no longer fully protected.  Smallpox is a very dangerous disease because it has fatality rate of about 30% and many survivors are left blind or disfigured.  It’s also very contagious and can be spread without direct contact because it can be transmitted via aerosolized droplets from saliva and other body fluids.

The financial goal is also worth considering.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to prepare for a potential smallpox attack.  The government has long stockpiled smallpox vaccines in the event they were needed, but the move to buy medicine to treat the disease is fairly recent and substantially more expensive than just buying vaccines.  This option has only recently been a possibility because there was no treatment for smallpox until now.  A private company developed antiviral medicine to treat smallpox in the hope that it would be profitable.

Developing solutions to problems that might occur is always tricky and likely to cause debate.  There are many reasons why a smallpox bioterrorism attack is frightening, but how much money should the US government spend to prepare for an attack?    How much preparation is enough?  There is no simple answer, but it’s important to understand these types of problems to the best of our ability to help make well thought out and reasonable decisions.

To view a high level Cause Map of this problem, click on “Download PDF” above.




Fighting Polio in India

By ThinkReliability Staff

On February 25, 2012, the World Health Organization removed India from the list of countries with active transmission of endemic polio.  This leaves three countries – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan – that are still struggling to eradicate polio from their population.  (See our previous blog for a discussion of the difficulties these countries are facing.)   India is an example of a remarkable success story made possible by hard work and meticulous planning.  In 2009, India reported the most polio cases of any country in the world – 741.  By the next year, the country reported on 42.  The last case of polio in India was reported on January 13, 2011.

We can use root cause analysis to determine causes of problems, and to learn from the issues of others.  We can also use it to learn from the successes of others.  Here we can use “success mapping” to create a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, of a successful outcome – in this case, the eradication of polio from India.  The steps of success mapping are the same as for incident mapping.  In this case, the public health goal was impacted – positively – by the absence of polio cases since 2011 in India.

We begin with the impacted goal, and ask “Why” questions.  The absence of polio cases in India is due to a successful vaccination campaign – covering more than 99% of children.  The successful program is due to a comprehensive, detailed vaccination plan, which we can lay out in a process map.  (To read more about India’s polio vaccination campaign, please see the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Website.)

The process for successful vaccination addresses some of the common problems with vaccination programs, which are still seen in the remaining endemic countries.  Notably, access to children is a major difficulty with vaccination programs.  In India, local volunteers canvass neighborhoods and determine the number of children in each home to provide vaccination workers with a number of children to look for and vaccinate.   Vaccination teams are also provided special tracking booklets for newborns, to ensure that any children that were not previously accounted for are added to the total.

There are many reasons that children are unable to be vaccinated.  Aid workers track the specific reason for each child that is not vaccinated and, depending on the reason, an appropriate follow-up team is sent to the house later on the same day and, if still unsuccessful, later in the week.  Follow-up teams include a community influencer if a parent refuses to vaccinate the child and a medical officer if a vaccination is not given because a child is ill.

Because some children are not found at home, transit teams were formed.  These teams vaccinate children at major intersections and transit points, such as train and bus stations.  To ensure full coverage (and that each child is vaccinated only once), children’s fingers are marked after they have received vaccinations.

It is hoped that some of these ideas can also be used by the vaccination teams in the remaining countries that have endemic polio and to ensure that polio does not return to countries that have already been removed from the list.  When ideas are successful at one site, other sites may be able to benefit from them as well.

However, a great process means nothing if you don’t have a team of dedicated workers.   As stated by India’s Prime Minister, “The real credit goes to the 2.3 million volunteers who repeatedly vaccinated children even in the most remote areas, often in very bad weather conditions. I commend each one of them for their dedication, commitment and selfless service.”  We second that commendation, and thank you for helping reduce the risk of this horrible disease.

To view the Process Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.

Only 3 Countries Remain with Endemic Polio

By ThinkReliability Staff

Polio is a horrible, crippling disease.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of the children who contract polio, 1 of 200 will be irreversibly paralyzed.  Of the children who are paralyzed, 5 to 10% will die because their breathing muscles are paralyzed.  The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed in 1988.  That year, more than 350,000 people were paralyzed.  So far in 2012 only 181 cases have been reported.  Obviously this is a huge success, but unfortunately, it’s not quite enough.  As Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Frieden states “If we fail to get over the finish line, we will need to continue expensive control measures for the indefinite future…More importantly, without eradication, a resurgence of polio could paralyze more than 200,000 children worldwide every year within a decade.”

Because polio cannot live outside the body for long periods of time (unlike most diseases) it can be eradicated.  The only human disease that has been completely eradicated is smallpox.

On February 25, 2012, India was removed from the list of endemic countries, leaving only three countries where polio is endemic: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.  Eradication in these countries continues to be difficult for various reasons.  We can look at some of the causes of why eradication has been difficult in these countries and ongoing solutions to these difficulties by analyzing the issue in a Cause Map, a visual form of Root Cause Analysis.

We begin with the impacts to the goals.  Public safety is impacted because of the risk of death and paralysis.  Public services are impacted due to the risk of contracting polio.  Additionally, the compliance goal is impacted because children are not receiving full vaccinations against polio.

There are myriad reasons for children not receiving full immune protection from vaccination against polio.  First is the difficulty finding and accessing children.  Many children in endemic areas are nomadic or homeless.  The use of “transit teams” – vaccination teams stationed at transportation stations and large crossings – aims to increase vaccination of these children.  Children are marked after they receive vaccines, to ensure the vaccines are not repeated and to allow tracking of the success of the program.  In many of the endemic areas, children are inaccessible to vaccination teams due to conflict or violence in these areas.  In some areas vaccination teams are blocked by local governments or even subject to violence.  Some religious and local government leaders do not support the vaccination program, or the makeup of the vaccination teams.  Outreach campaigns aim to reach the public, community and religious leaders.  The GPEI, WHO and CDC are trying to work with governments and religious organizations to increase acceptance of the vaccines.  The creation of small scale immediate immunization response strategies aims to allow fast response when a previously inaccessible area becomes accessible, to maximize immunization during that time.

Some parents will not allow their children to be vaccinated.  In many cultures, women will not open the door to men.  Vaccination teams will generally include at least one woman to help increase acceptance from parents.  Parents are also reluctant to vaccinate newborns, or children who are sick or sleeping.  The importance of vaccinating these children is being added to outreach information and polio hotlines are being created to attempt to provide information to reluctant parents.  Because at least four doses of the polio vaccine are required to fully protect against the disease, these issues are magnified.  Permanent polio teams in the endemic areas aim to maximize the immunization coverage and attempt to eradicate this disease once and for all.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.