An oral polio vaccine is safe, cheap, easy to give and widely available, with over 1 billion doses produced and used annually in more than 140 countries, according to the team, which includes a man who co-discovered HIV and a vaccine expert from the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine has nearly eradicated polio worldwide.
The oral polio vaccine uses a weakened version of the polio virus. The live attenuated vaccines produce a strong and long-lasting immune response, vaccine experts said. They’re slower to manufacture than modern vaccines that just use a piece of genetic material from a virus, and the US and European companies working on coronavirus vaccines are focusing on quicker ways.
It would make sense to at least test it to see if it helps against coronavirus, said Konstantin Chumakov of the FDA and Dr. Robert Gallo of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, and colleagues.
Gallo co-discovered the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS while Chumakov is associate director for research at the FDA’s vaccine division.
“We propose the use of OPV (oral poliovirus vaccine ) to ameliorate or prevent COVID-19. Both poliovirus and coronavirus are positive-strand RNA viruses; therefore, it is likely that they may induce and be affected by common innate immunity mechanisms,” they wrote. ” … Oral poliovirus vaccine in particular, could provide temporary protection against coronavirus disease.”
The oral polio vaccine produces herd effects, they wrote. Herd immunity is reached when the majority of a given population — 70% to 90% — becomes immune to an infectious disease, either because they have become infected and recovered, or through vaccination.
In addition to protecting vulnerable individuals, it could also prevent the spread of the new coronavirus by increasing the proportion of unsusceptible individuals, Chumakov, Gallo and colleagues wrote.
“The risk of complications due to OPV is extremely low,” they added. It can cause a polio-like complication, but only in about one out of every 3 million doses given, and then mostly in immunocompromised children.
Doctors know that the benefits of vaccination extend beyond the particular germs targeted.
“Other live attenuated viral vaccines such as those against measles and smallpox have also been associated with pronounced nonspecific protective effects against infectious diseases,” they wrote.
“In Africa, when measles vaccine was introduced in the community, the overall mortality in children declined by more than 50%, a reduction that was far larger than anticipated on the basis of the protection against measles deaths alone,” they added.