The Filtrate: Polio Progress, Healthcare for Trees, and Special Deliveries

The big news of the past week, of course, was the promise of competent management returning to the US federal government soon, along with a very preliminary indication that the development of vaccines against COVID-19 is going well. Let’s see what else trickled through to the Filtrate.

Still eradicating polio

The seemingly endless campaign to eradicate polio grinds on. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress a bit, researchers and public health experts hope that a new vaccine design will help the beleaguered effort overcome one of its biggest obstacles.

To date, the campaign has relied heavily on the active, attenuated oral poliovirus vaccine, which is highly effective but can sometimes mutate to cause paralysis. Those mutant strains can then go on to cause vaccine-derived outbreaks of their own. It’s like a prescribed burn that gets out of control. The new vaccine, under development since 2011, has been genetically engineered to preclude this type of back-mutation, and now it’s about to be rolled out for general use. Let’s hope it works.

I’m not a lumberjack if I’m okay

Tropical rainforest destruction, especially through illegal logging, is one of the world’s many ongoing ecological catastrophes. Unfortunately, efforts to combat it have had mixed results, to put it nicely. In new research reported in PNAS, an interdisciplinary team took a radical approach to the problem: talking to the people who are cutting down the trees. Those conversations revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that grinding poverty and lack of access to affordable healthcare were driving many of the illegal logging operations. After having rural health clinics offer discounts to communities that eschewed illegal logging, and providing job retraining, the investigators saw significant reductions in nearby deforestation. It’s almost as if providing basic services to the poor benefited everyone. What a weird idea.

You can’t just FedEx it to them

Effective COVID-19 vaccines could become widely available next year, which would be great, and in rich countries they’ll likely be distributed through the same sophisticated logistics systems used for annual flu vaccines. What about poor countries, though? Anyone who’s interested in addressing that problem should look first to the networks already in place for distributing antimalarial, antihelminthic, and other drugs to treat neglected tropical diseases. As a PLOS NTD Viewpoint describes, these systems, run by deeply collaborative public-private partnerships, have astonishing coverage worldwide. Every human should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine when an effective one becomes available, and the world does have the resources to accomplish that. Let’s keep that in mind and not let anyone make excuses about it.

That’s all for this time. As always, if you have a story you think will fit through our filter, please let us know directly or post a comment below.