Bill and Melinda Gates’ Polio Efforts Led to 47,500 Kids Being Paralyzed – Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
A polio vaccination campaign headed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India led to 47,500 cases of paralysis.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ polio vaccination efforts in India have not paralyzed 47,500 children.
The eRumor surfaced in 2013 when the website Nsnbc International published a report that claimed Bill and Melinda Gates hired Bollywood actors to encourage Indians to take an oral polo vaccine in a campaign that went horribly wrong:
“Polio is a terrible disease that kills many and paralyzes others. Fifty years ago it was widespread around the world. When you talk to people who remember polio in the United States, they’ll tell you about the fear and panic during an outbreak and describe grim hospital wards full of children in iron lungs that maintained their breathing. At its peak in the United States in 1952, polio paralyzed or killed more than 24,000 people.
“But in 2011 alone, the Bill and Melinda Gates’ polio vaccine campaign in India caused 47,500 cases of paralysis and death.”
The report goes on to claim that the CDC had “dropped the oral polio vaccine from its vaccine schedule in the U.S. because it was causing polio,” which is true. The oral polio vaccine (OPV) has not been used in the U.S. since 2000. The CDC said the risk of paralysis, which effects one out of every 2.4 million children, was too high:
“To eliminate the risk of VAPP, as of January 1, 2000, OPV was no longer recommended for routine immunization in the United States. However, OPV continues to be used in the countries where polio is endemic or the risk of importation and transmission is high. OPV is recommended for global polio eradication activities in polio-endemic countries due to its advantages over IPV in providing intestinal immunity and providing secondary spread of the vaccine to unprotected contacts.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said that it contributes technical and financial recourses to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to support things like targeted vaccination campaigns, community mobilization and stronger routine immunization efforts:
“A cornerstone of the GPEI polio eradication strategy is the goal of reaching all children in the first year of life in the highest-risk countries with multiple doses of OPV, through both national and local vaccination campaigns. Efforts include door-to-door immunization in areas where poliovirus is known or suspected to be circulating, as well as in areas at risk of re-importation, with limited access to healthcare, high population density and mobility, poor sanitation, and low routine immunization coverage…
“OPV, the polio vaccine used in most of the developing world, is safe, effective, easy to administer, and inexpensive. But OPV consists of live, weakened viruses, which in very rare cases — 1 in every 2.7 million first doses of the vaccine — can cause paralysis. In settings with very low OPV coverage, OPV vaccine viruses can also mutate and begin to circulate in the population, just like wild polioviruses.”
But the eRumor’s central claim — that Bill and Melinda Gates’ polio efforts caused “47,500 cases of paralysis death” — is false. It’s based on an editorial in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. The editorial said 47,500 new cases of non-polio AFP reported in India in 2011 was “directly proportional” to doses of OPV administered there. The statistic was used to argue the larger point that donor funded “disease-specific” projects should be dropped in favor of community-oriented primary health care programs.
But research doesn’t support the editorial’s claims. Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science and the World Health Organization launched a study on the rise of AFP cases in India, and found that a number of factors contributed to it. First, the definition of AFP had been broadened so that weakness and paralysis that result from non-polio viruses now fall under the AFP definition, which led to many more cases being reported. A second factor is that with polio nearly eradicated in India, screenings for non-polio viruses that cause AFP have spiked dramatically, which means that more cases have been identified. According to the study:
“This large increase in non-polio AFP cases, which represent AFP cases caused by agents other than poliovirus, probably reflects the excellent implementation of the expanded definition of AFP and highly sensitive surveillance and detection methods used by NPSP in India from 2005 onwards, in contrast to the other polio-endemic countries, i.e., Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, where the expanded AFP surveillance is not in place. The large increase in the non-polio AFP rate from 1.45 and 1.97 per 100,000 children during 1998–2003 to 16.20 in 2011 further reflects the excellent operational performance of the expanded AFP surveillance in India.”