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Mission Impossible?

An international campaign to rid the world of polio has made dazzling progress. But some experts question whether the scourge can ever be eradicated

Advocates of polio eradication counter that outbreaks caused by the oral vaccine are extremely rare, with only three documented worldwide since 2000, resulting in fewer than 30 cases of paralysis; to advocates, the question is not whether to continue the campaign but, rather, how to phase out the oral vaccine after poliomyelitis cases disappear. Besides, they say, the success of eradicating polio from the Western Hemisphere (in 1994), from the PacificBasin including China (2000) and from Europe (2002) shows that the same can be done for the rest of the world. Henderson’s “ridiculous” suggestion, says University of Pennsylvania polio expert Dr. Neal Nathanson, is “distracting and demoralizing to all the people working to make that goal a reality.” To give up now, says Dr. Stephen Cochi, director of global immunization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would be like “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

 

Salgado, for his part, says it’s cynical to ease up “so close to the edge of finishing.” He admits he’s no expert, but he allies himself with the physicians, vaccinators and others who, as he puts it in his Portuguese-accented English, “are the guys of the good side of the planet.”

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