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Polio has exploded back into Americans’ consciousness after being out of the spotlight in the U.S. for half a century or so: In late summer, it paralyzed an adult in New York state, and the poliovirus has been detected in New York City’s wastewater. This week on the “First Opinion Podcast,” doctors Sallie Permar and Jay Varma make the case that pediatricians are the frontline for fending off this “old foe,” but they need help.

Not that long ago, almost every child in the U.S. was vaccinated against polio. That’s a huge reason why no cases of polio caused by wild poliovirus have originated in the U.S. since 1979. Today, though, kids aren’t getting their routine vaccinations, including those against polio, because of pandemic-related pediatric appointments being canceled or put off and the rise of the anti-vaccine movement.


“It’s thanks to the work of pediatricians that keeps that that vaccine rate very high,” said Permar, the pediatrician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “The question is, are we really supporting pediatricians enough to maintain high enough vaccination rates to keep out things like polio?”

One of the challenges here is that there are mild forms of polio that cause gastrointestinal or other common symptoms and no one knows if these are occurring in New York City, or how many of them are occurring, said Varma, an internal medicine physician and infectious diseases epidemiologist, a professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, and director of its Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response. “If we don’t test more widely, we may not actually understand how many people may be getting infected.”

Both agreed that there is an urgent need for policies and practices to strengthen vaccine delivery through pediatricians, and offered several ways to get there.


Our conversation stems from their First Opinion, “Polio in New York: A call to action for U.S. pediatricians and public health to work together.”

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And if you have any feedback for us — First Opinion authors to feature on the podcast, vocal mannerisms the host needs to jettison, kudos or darts — email us at [email protected] and please put “podcast” in the subject line.

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