The Polio Definition Argument

A Model Definition/Categorical Argument

Political Paralysis

How many children will we need to paralyze to eradicate polio forever? Increasingly, as we approach the ultimate goal of eliminating a crippling disease once and for all from the planet, we must confront this grim calculation. Until the turn of this new century, the naturally-occurring—or wild—polio virus was the primary way for the disease to reach its human hosts, causing illness, debilitation, partial or total paralysis, even death, usually of children, almost always in remote villages ill-served by health agencies. But since the certified eradication of Type 2 polio, and the near elimination of Types 1 and 3, the primary way polio infects its hosts is, I hesitate to say it, through our own inoculation campaigns.

The twentieth-century eradication of smallpox must have emboldened us to imagine that ridding the world of polio would be a matter of course. After all, according to Donald Henderson’s “The Eradication of Smallpox—An Overview,” smallpox had killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone, “more than twice the death toll of all the military wars of that century.” Compared to that massive, almost always deadly scourge, polio, which paralyzed children but killed few and was almost never contracted by adults, must have seemed like an easy target for elimination.

But polio turned out to be a different case altogether: less deadly but sneakier, more resistant to both serums and human effort.

First of all, smallpox is easy to spot. As Henderson again notes, this time in “Countering the Posteradication Threat of Smallpox and Polio,” smallpox is readily visible. Sufferers are covered over most of their body with distinctive purulent poxes. Unlike polio, which can hide in the body for years while its bearers infect others, smallpox advertises its presence and makes intervention much more likely. Imagine trying to rid the world of a disease that has more than 200 asymptomatic carriers for every paralyzed patient.

Second, polio vaccines need to be administered several times, on a schedule, to be effective. Whereas for smallpox, again according to Henderson, a single dose of vaccine immunizes nearly 100% effectively, polio requires at least three doses of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). And fewer than six doses might not achieve a 90% protection against the predominant strains: types I and III. In stable communities with the enthusiastic support of the local population and health agencies, inoculating every child under five with six doses of anything on a scheduled basis would be seemingly indomitable. But, add to that the social and environmental instability of the areas where polio is endemic (Afghanistan, Pakistan, North and West India, and Nigeria), where flood, famine, and warfare shred the social fabric, and the job seems beyond human capability.

Finally, the vaccines themselves can infect patients with the virus. This is the most insidious and infuriating frustration of the fight against polio. What at the start of the campaign was an almost negligible nuisance factor (if lifelong paralysis can be discounted) of 1 case per 3 million doses of vaccine, has become—tragically and ironically—a much more significant drawback of the seemingly endless effort to finally eradicate polio.

Aylward and Tangermann relate the confident enthusiasm of the polio eradication campaign of the early 1980s, fueled by a strong start and rapid success.

By the year 2000, the incidence of polio globally had decreased by 99%. . . . By 2002 . . . the Americas, Western Pacific and European Regions had been certified polio-free. By 2005, . . .  wild poliovirus (WPV) had been interrupted in all but 4 ‘endemic’ countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where eradication efforts effectively stalled.

Momentum is everything in eradication campaigns. The effort is global and requires the cooperation of entire continents. Adversaries in everything else need to put aside their differences—sometimes even calling cease-fires on battlefields—to cooperate in delivering preventive measures to diverse populations regardless of their race or nationality. What had occurred so naturally in the eradication smallpox needed to occur again if polio was to be eliminated. Henderson described it this way:

The scope of the smallpox program was unprecedented. It required the cooperation of all countries throughout the world and the active participation of more than 50. It was a universal effort unlike any that had ever been undertaken. Most countries eventually proved to be readily responsive but strong persuasion was necessary for some. National antipathies were generally set aside.

In both efforts, the vast majority of the population in endemic countries were inoculated in the early years. And in both cases complications of population movement, natural disasters, maddening bureaucracy, and dislocations of regional conflicts and civil wars frustrated the mass inoculations. But the polio campaign has not yet overcome the elemental differences of the two diseases that make the ultimate elimination of polio so much less likely.

Like the smallpox campaign, the effort to eradicate polio scored impressive early successes. According to Aylward and Tangermann, “By the year 2000, the incidence of polio globally had decreased by 99% compared with the estimated number of cases in 1988 . . . and the last case of polio due to wild poliovirus type 2 transmission anywhere in the world was recorded in Uttar Pradesh, India in 1999.” And then the effort stalled.

Polio is not smallpox: obvious, defenseless, stable. It’s nefarious, invisible until it strikes, and mutable. The 1% of cases that persisted after 2005 began to mutate. The world had failed to wipe out the last of the last viruses. Some children had only mucosal immunity while the virus thrived in their intestines. The carriers looked healthy but passed the virus to others undetected, especially in the toughest places, the remote villages and refugee camps where sanitation was crude at best and healthcare nonexistent.

And while the agencies assigned to eradication tried to counter the mutations with customized variations of the Oral Polio Vaccine to meet local conditions, mounting resistance to an intrusive, expensive, and seemingly endless global eradication effort weakened the support needed to force the effort past the last 1%. According to Taylor, Cutts, and Taylor, in the American Journal of Public Health, “Negative effects were greatest in poor countries with many other diseases of public health importance.” It’s not hard to imagine the reluctance of villagers in India, for example, whose children routinely die of diarrhea, objecting to the massive effort to eliminate polio, which many have never seen, and which does not kill.

There was blessed, magnificent, altogether positive enthusiasm at the UN, at the WHO, at Rotary International, in the 1980s, that the world could once again achieve with polio the triumph of man over disease that had been accomplished against smallpox. But similar efforts achieve similar results only when conditions are similar, and smallpox and polio are too different for the same formulas to work.


Aylward, B., & Tangermann, R. (2012, April 06). The global polio eradication initiative: Lessons learned and prospects for success. Retrieved February 12, 2018, from

C E Taylor, F Cutts, and M E Taylor. Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. “Ethical dilemmas in current planning for polio eradication.”, American Journal of Public Health 87, no. 6 (June 1, 1997): pp. 922-925.

Henderson, D. A. (2002, January 01). Countering the Posteradication Threat of Smallpox and Polio | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic. Retrieved February 12, 2018, from

18 Responses to The Polio Definition Argument

  1. Lunaduna says:

    The first sentence in the essay was very intriguing.
    It made me think about how we would always have the chance to paralyze children if we give them a vaccine. “Smallpox had killed 300 million children in the 20th century alone.”


  2. levixvice says:

    The political analysis conclusion on polio is that eradicating infected population is horrible, but effective in keeping polio at bay. Polio vaccines and serums are ineffective for people with weak immunity system from types 1 to 3.


  3. toastedflatbread22 says:

    This essay works with all of the different types of claims-ethos, pathos, and logos and it successfully convinces readers. It outlines the complications with eradicating polio and does a successful job of explaining why the polio vaccine issue is one that may not be solved.


  4. cfalover says:

    I think that the essay used the ethos, logos, and pathos claims very well and it intrigues readers from the very first sentence. It goes through why eradicating polio will be almost impossible.


  5. kingofcamp says:

    I enjoyed your opening statement and paragraph. The first sentenced captured your reader’s attention while the following sentences in the paragraph kept the reader interested. This eventually lead me (and other readers) to read the rest of your model definition essay.


  6. I though the use of the rhetorical question in the essay was intriguing and really grabs the reader’s attention. In the first paragraph specifically, each sentence makes you eager to read the next. Also, I like the use of quotes in the essay and the way that the author’s quote are edited.


  7. frogs02 says:

    This piece of writing included ethos, pathos, and logos. “How many children will we need to paralyze to eradicate polio forever?” would pull almost every person that is reading in. We feel sympathy and we never want any kids to be paralyzed so we read It in interest to see how we can help kids. It explains why the polio vaccine couldn’t work out. The first sentence pulled me in and I wanted to finish the writing piece.


  8. tyblicky2001 says:

    The first sentence didn’t fail to catch my attention. All of the types of claims were well constructed.


  9. strawberryfields4 says:

    The first sentence of your argument was tremendously powerful. Posing a question as appalling as, “How many children will we need to paralyze to eradicate polio forever?,” immediately baffles and intrigues the reader. It builds the desire for the reader to continue to read and learn exactly what you are referring to. Additionally, opening with a question that addresses harm to children, instantly appeals to the reader’s pathos. Emotions always become invested when the suffering of children is addressed.


  10. sunshinegirl457 says:

    Going into this, I did not have a lot of knowledge on polio but this argument was very informative and persuasive. It used ethos, pathos, and logos to present the claims. I enjoyed the block quotes because I often find myself taking many useful lines from an article and the paper ends up looking messy. I wasn’t aware isolating it like that was an option, but it’s way more visually appealing.


  11. krackintheneck says:

    The first sentence really intrigued me to keep reading on to find an answer. I think it was great to start off this essay with a question. This appealed to the audience’s emotion (pathos) by talking about children being paralyzed. I also really liked the conclusion mostly the first sentence by it appealing to the audience’s logic. I’m not too sure if I have seen any ethos used in this essay, but I’m not sure if it was used in a different way than I had expected.


  12. Lily4Pres says:

    I like how the first sentence kicks off appealing to our pathos. Making us intrigued to continue reading due to the emotional connection to innocent kids being paralyzed. The comparison to smallpox’s death toll to wars (during the 20th century) was very appealing as well. The informal citations are done very well, I’ll revisit this to model mine. I see the logos and ethos as well, using logic and ethics throughout.


  13. calamariii says:

    The argument worked well as it used pathos early to make readers want to continue on, and used logos and ethos to support the initial use of an emotional question. It continued on to use souces and reason to conclude that polio could not be eradicated in the same way as smallpox.


  14. comatosefox says:

    I believe that all three of Aristotle’s arguments are located in this essay, although you did open with a rhetorical question (what you’re not suppose to do), it a good opening regardless because it intrigues the reader. The comparison between polio and small pox helps the readers that may not have kept in the know of disease and their vaccinations. It helps people understand that although things that are similar to each other could share the same outcome, one difference between the two could cause the outcome to become a dream.


  15. chickendinner says:

    This essay effectively used ethos by citing respected, reputable sources.


  16. jonnyb25 says:

    I enjoyed the Political Paralysis article. The first sentence did its job to catch the reader’s attention and hook them on for the following sentence. Smallpox had killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone. Smallpox was a noticeable disease when Polio was not and could hide in the body until you start to see its presence.


  17. zeek says:

    I like the openning, it asks a retorical question that no one wants to answer but still leaves you curious. I feel like this helps readers stay interested, it adds an edgy perspective to a real world problem that may never be solved. Also, in the ninth paragraph it was stated that “like the smallpox campaign, the effort to eradicate polio scored impressively early success”. I liked seeing this because it helped me to better understand resemblance claims.


  18. zzbrd2822 says:

    I feel that the essay does a really good job of going through why eradicating polio will be almost impossible. The first sentence intrigues the reader to continue into the rest of the essay and it nicely incorporates ethos, pathos, and logos.


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