Nothing amuses me more than see a vaccine marketer use the history of polio as an example of vaccine success. So when a story claims vaccine success against polio, it’s time to hit the DEBUNK button.
The Story: Dave Helling’s story featured on Yahoo News today makes multiple misleading and unverified claims about polio and the polio vaccine in US history, attempting to preach trust in vaccines today for COVID. Let’s examine the usual, clichéd claims that these vaccine advertisers use to create a history of polio that they can’t prove with evidence.
The Numbers Game
The entire department of polio vaccine marketing is based on claimed numbers—much like every other vaccine marketing campaign. Helling’s story repeats the familiar number of nearly 58 thousand cases of polio in the United States in 1952. Now that was the time when there was no laboratory test requirement for polio infection diagnosis. Anyone seeing a doctor with a few flu-like symptoms—like fever, aches, muscle weakness—was diagnosed by the doctors with polio. As Dr. Suzanne Humphries details in her research on infectious diseases, included in her highly informative book Dissolving Illusions, a number of illnesses back then would be diagnosed as polio under the very loose criteria of polio diagnosis.
So it was the same number game used by quacks back then that we see today with COVID 19: create a scare via collusion of media and doctors and keep very loose criteria of diagnosis so that tons of people start getting tested and you get enough numbers to declare an epidemic. However, the numbers don’t appear big enough since at that time 58000 cases out of a population of over 163 million people would be around 0.035 percent of population. So only 3 people in every 1000 got the disease? Doesn’t sound very infectious as Webmd tell us between 5% and 20% people in America get flu annually. And if you apply the standard scientific diagnostic criteria to the given polio numbers, where will that incidence rest? One can only guess.
So was polio killing people left and right? Helling’s story says polio claimed 3,145 lives in 1952. Again, how many actually died of poliovirus is not clear since no lab testing was done to confirm the actual number of polio cases to verify the cause of death, let alone autopsies to rule out other underlying conditions as cause of death. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume all the reported deaths were indeed polio deaths. In a population of 163 million people, the polio mortality rate that year comes to 0.000019 or about 2 people in every hundred thousand people in America and this in turn means one in every fifty thousand people in America. I think we can agree that anyone claiming 1 in 50000 deaths as a raging killing nationwide epidemic will be examined for their altered mental health or dangerously low level of intelligence. Just for comparison sake, seasonal flu is said to kill at least around 24000 people in America annually. And flu is not generally considered anywhere near dangerous or deadly for the vast majority of people.
Paralysis by Polio
Another commonly used misleading information is the scare story of large number of people getting paralyzed due to polio infection. This is a myth, or at best, an unverified claim. Helling’s story puts the claim of paralysis by polio at 21000 cases. He writes: “Around 21,000 people were paralyzed, some permanently.” First thing, Helling doesn’t bother to include a relevant link or reference to the source of this claim. But assuming his numbers are correct, it is important to notice the part saying “some permanently” paralyzed. It’s known of polio that the incidence of permanent crippling paralysis is very uncommon and predominantly people reporting paralysis from polio suffered just temporary muscle weakness that went away on its own as the disease naturally went away or with usual medical or natural treatment. Helling doesn’t include the exact number of permanent cases of paralysis, And we can totally understand the reason: it’ll undermine his scare narrative if it turns out that permanent paralysis was a rare incidence in polio outbreaks.
The Disappearance of Polio
The interesting part of Helling’s story is the absence of numbers of polio cases before and after the highlighted 1952 epidemic. Instead of tracing the disease through decades and providing supporting evidence to show the vaccines were effective in eradiating it, Helling just links to a CDC page that claims the vaccines made polio disappear but without providing any evidence. Instead the CDC page makes unverified claims that since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the U.S. and the virus has been brought into the country by travelers with polio.
The real history of polio vaccines is far more scary and darker than advertorials like Helling’s story. The Sabin Vaccine for polio, administered as oral drops, hence the name oral Polio vaccine or OPV, used a live virus to infect children (and thus adults in contact with them) with the poliovirus. This led to the mutation of the poliovirus that the vaccinated children spread by transmission to those who were otherwise healthy. Thus the vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) was born that continued to cause polio cases in the U.S. until it was finally stopped around the year 2000. The 2004 paper “Vaccine policy changes and epidemiology of poliomyelitis in the United States” published in JAMA mentions this fact.
The mutated viruses from oral polio vaccine continue to create polio outbreaks in many of the less developed countries on different continents – mainly Asia and Africa – and have paralyzed thousands and thousands of children, the worst victim being India where this number runs in hundreds of thousands.
Helling argues that because polio shots are still given to kids, it protects them from polio. False claim again as there is no proof it saves children from polio and there is no proof it ever did. The only thing it shows is that entire nations have been enslaved into the fear of a disease that was neither highly infectious nor so deadly and thus they have permanently imposed a vaccine on children that should never have been required for them.
Did FDR Have Polio?
One of the claims Helling makes briefly – obviously to avoid backing it up with evidence – is that “A president got polio. If you weren’t careful, you could get it” referring to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR for short, who was believed to have polio. But since early 2000s researchers have argued that it was not polio but Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) which exhibits pretty much the same symptoms as polio. A number of researchers have since disputed the claim that FDR had polio and instead argued that he had GBS. So Helling is either ignorant of that research or chose to repeat the now disputed claim that FDR had polio.
Verdict: Dave Helling’s story on polio history and alleged polio vaccine success is a repetition of lies exposed numerous times by researchers who don’t go with the establishment narrative of polio history tailored to serve the vaccine mafia. It’s garden variety vaccine advertisement, not journalism.
Skepticle Score: 10/10