Global Eradication of COVID-19 Likely More Feasible Than Polio, According to Some Public Health Experts

It is likely more feasible to globally eradicate COVID-19 than it is to do so for polio, according to a comparative score of technical, sociopolitical, and economic factors published in BMJ Global Health. However, according to the investigators, eradicating COVID-19 is considerably less feasible than the elimination of smallpox.

Eradication is made possible by public health measures, vaccination, and global interest created by the financial and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main challenges, according to the authors, are achieving sufficient vaccine coverage and responding swiftly to variants that may evade immunity.

“Other challenges would be the high upfront costs (for vaccination and upgrading health systems) and achieving the necessary international cooperation in the face of ‘vaccine nationalism’ and government-mediated ‘antiscience aggression,’” the authors said in a prepared statement.

The investigators compared COVID-19 to smallpox and polio using a suite of technical, sociopolitical, and economic factors likely to assist in achieving eradication. For each of the 17 variables considered, they used a 3-point scoring system. These factors included the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, lifelong immunity, impact of public health measures, effective government management of infection control messaging, political and public concern about the economic and social impacts of the infection, and public acceptance of infection control measures.

The average scores in the analysis totaled 2.7 for smallpox, 1.6 for COVID-19, and 1.5 for polio. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 and 2 out of the 3 serotypes of poliovirus have also been globally eradicated.

“While our analysis is a preliminary effort, with various subjective components, it does seem to put COVID-19 eradicability into the realms of being possible, especially in terms of technical feasibility,” the authors wrote in the study.

The elimination of COVID-19—defined as a reduction to zero in incidences of infection caused by a specific agent in a defined geographical area as a result of deliberate efforts—has been achieved and sustained for extended time periods in several jurisdictions in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the authors, this provides a proof-of-concept for the possibility of global eradication.

REFERENCE

Global eradication of COVID-19 probably feasible, and more so than for polio, say public health experts [news release]. EurekAlert; August 9, 2021. Accessed August 10, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/924579