Romania’s Secretary of State warned polio could make a comeback in Europe

polio

CDC Global

A girl receiving the oral polio vaccine.

Romania’s secretary of state and head of the Department for Emergency Situations warned last week that polio could make a comeback in the country. 

Raed Arafat announced on Facebook that anti-vaccination movements in Romania have intensified, and diseases that should long have been eradicated could start emerging once again.

“As a doctor, I’m telling you that the worst thing would be the reappearance of diseases that have been eradicated thanks to vaccination campaigns,” he wrote. 

He added that he wouldn’t know what a parent would do if they found out their child had a dangerous disease that they could have been protected from.

Polio is a virus which is unsymptomatic in about 70% of cases, but it can be horrific. Around 1 in 200 people who are infected become paralysed. About 2-5% of children, and 15-30% of adults who experience muscle weakness die. Thanks to an effective vaccination program, polio is on the verge of elimination. There were only 96 cases of polio in the entire world in 2015.

However, in his post, Arafat claimed that polio is starting to make a come-back, and he said that anti-vaccination campaigns are to blame.

“Polio is a disease eradicated due to vaccination, and which began to reappear because of the parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children,” he said.

He also said that he respects other people’s opinions, but public personalities shouldn’t stand against vaccination unless they come with “indisputable scientific evidence.”

“At this moment, the only indisputable evidence is in favor of vaccination, not against,” he wrote. “I ask and urge you to get well informed before condemning your child and other children to death or mutilation for life!”

There is no evidence of confirmed cases of polio in Romania, but Arafat was likely referring to the disease reappearing over the past few years in countries in Europe and Africa. If vaccination rates for polio drop, then the risks of unvaccinated children catching the disease from people entering from neighbouring countries are immediately amplified. 

Romania has experienced disease re-emergence before

Arafat’s overzealous claims could be due to what’s happened in the past. So far this year, the country has registered 1,725 measles cases, which led to 7 deaths, including three children under 1 year old. For comparison, in 2015, there were just 7 confirmed cases of measles, and nobody died from it. 

“The Ministry of Health condemns in the strongest terms the irresponsible campaigns against children vaccination. The results [of these campaigns] translates into a dramatic increase in measles cases in one year,” the Ministry of Health representatives said in a Facebook post.

Measles has been repeatedly linked to anti-vaccination campaigners. The movement mostly grew from people believing that the measles, mumps, and rubella jab could cause autism. This has been repeatedly refuted, and no respected health organisation in the world supports the idea that there is any link between autism and vaccination. Vaccines save lives — there’s simply no other way to put it. 

The anti-vaccination hysteria can mostly be traced back to one key event in 1998: a press conference held in London by doctor Andrew Wakefield who had written a research paper published in medical journal The Lancet, which suggested a link between vaccines and autism. But in 2010, The General Medical Council ruled Wakefield had acted unethically in carrying out his research, the paper has been retracted, and Wakefield was later stripped of his medical license.

To try to combat the problem, The Romanian Ministry of Health has just launched a website where people can find out more information about vaccination, such as what goes into vaccines, how they work, testimonials from parents, and the laws surrounding them.

According to Romania Insider, unvaccinated children may soon be banned from schools in Romania. Hopefully, because polio is so nearly eradicated completely, history won’t repeat itself this time. 

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