Hypothetical emergence of poliovirus in 2020: part 1. Consequences of policy decisions to respond using nonpharmaceutical interventions

Expert Rev Vaccines. 2021 Apr;20(4):465-481. doi: 10.1080/14760584.2021.1891888. Epub 2021 May 5.


Objectives: As efforts to control COVID-19 continue, we simulate hypothetical emergence of wild poliovirus assuming an immunologically naïve population. This differs from the current global experience with polio and serves as a model for responding to future pandemics.

Methods: Applying an established global model, we assume a fully susceptible global population to polioviruses, independently introduce a virus with properties of each of the three stable wild poliovirus serotypes, and explore the impact of strategies that range from doing nothing to seeking global containment and eradication.

Results: We show the dynamics of paralytic cases as the virus spreads globally. We demonstrate the difficulty of eradication unless aggressive efforts begin soon after initial disease detection. Different poliovirus serotypes lead to different trajectories and burdens of disease. In the absence of aggressive measures, the virus would become globally endemic in 2-10 years, and cumulative paralytic cases would exceed 4-40 million depending on serotype, with the burden of disease shifting to younger ages.

Conclusions: The opportunity to eradicate emerging infections represents an important public policy choice. If the world first observed the emergence of wild poliovirus in 2020, adopting aggressive control strategies would have been required to prevent a devastating global pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; dynamic modeling; eradication; polio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • Disease Eradication / methods
  • Disease Eradication / trends
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Global Health*
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Poliomyelitis / epidemiology*
  • Poliomyelitis / immunology
  • Poliomyelitis / prevention & control
  • Poliovirus / isolation & purification*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification