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Smallpox and Polio Epidemics

Health Strategies for Eradication of Small Pox and Polio at Population Level

Center for Global Development (CGD) defines smallpox as a viral infection that is transmitted from one person to another through the air. The virus is dispersed by face-to-face contact with an infected person or when one touches contaminated clothing. An individual could stay infectious and healthy for 17 days after contracting the virus. Smallpox became an eradication goal in the 1950s when a ten-year campaign was launched globally through compulsory vaccination and revaccination. WHO suggested that the disease could be eradicated by vaccinating or revaccinating 80% of individuals living in endemic areas within 4 to 5 years (Center for Global Development, n.d.). Polio is a viral disease that is highly infectious that mainly affects children below the age of five. There are three types of poliovirus. Type 3 and 2 were eradicated between 1999 and 2020. Type 1 has remained in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Polio is prevented through immunization, although it has no cure. It was eliminated through a global polio eradication initiative (GPEI) (World Health Organization, n.d.). The initiative’s partners aimed at ensuring that no more children were paralyzed by polio again.

Population Health Strategies Used

Both polio and smallpox have been eradicated through vaccination as a population-level health strategy. Since the formation of GPEI in 1988, it has formed alliances with more than 200 nations to vaccinate billions of children against polio. This eradication strategy has adapted to diverse contexts and emerging challenges (Deressa et al., 2020). Smallpox eradication in 1980 was a triumph for the public health fraternity. WHO eradication program presented smallpox’s first-generation vaccines utilizing vaccinia virus-like DryVax. The primary strategy was mass vaccination during the endemic era, but the demand exceeded supply making it a challenge to be vaccinated. Therefore, a ring vaccination strategy was unveiled, which combined surveillance, containment, and vaccination of close contacts (Costantino et al., 2021). This was the main strategy that led to the final eradication phases of smallpox.

Similarities and Differences between the Diseases Epidemiological Perspectives

Smallpox, polio, and covid-19 are preventable through vaccination. Smallpox has very low transmissibility compared to polio and Covid-19. PHSMs, including hygiene, physical distancing, isolation, contact tracing, border controls, etc, support smallpox and Covid-19 vaccinations. Polio vaccinations are mainly supported by community involvement and sanitation improvements. Polio and smallpox have a more stable and genetic causal agent, while covid-19 has different variants, which may cause problems with some vaccines. Smallpox has a strong characteristic clinical syndrome, while polio has none. Covid-19 has a weak distinct clinical syndrome because a third of infections are asymptomatic, and others have clear symptoms (Wilson et al., 2021). Smallpox’s vaccine is safe and highly effective, while polio and Covid-19 vaccines are moderately safe and efficient.

Principles of Epidemiology in Addressing Covid-19

Epidemiology entails using the available data regarding a condition to act. Various epidemiological aspects were deployed to address Covid-19. Covid-19 surveillance was crucial for effective intervention. Accurate and timely data surveillance helped control the spread of the disease. Surveillance was essential to rapidly detect cases to contain the spread of infections and end the pandemic (Ibrahim, 2020). The surveillance entails monitoring the spread to determine progression patterns and apply control and preventive measures like lockdown, distancing, hygiene, vaccination, etc.

Lessons from Infectious Disease Epidemiology That Can Be Used to Control Covid-19

Good vaccination was reasonable for infectious diseases like smallpox because it was expected to disrupt transmission entirely. Therefore, when an outbreak was experienced, the disease’s natural course enabled health workers to isolate victims while tracing contacts and vaccinating the local population (Center for Global Development, n.d.). Similarly, through an effective vaccination, covid-19 could be controlled efficiently. The vaccine can reduce the level of transmission. If many people are vaccinated, there would be minimal chances of transmitting the virus to unvaccinated individuals. Vaccine resilience can offer protection, leading to lower and milder fatality rates.

Significance of Handling Health Problems at the Population Level than the Individual Level

Healthcare problems are effectively handled at the population level than at the individual level. At the population level, the problem is considered at all practice levels, including individual-based, community-based, and system-based. The interventions are directed to benefit an entire population, including the systems affecting the population’s health and families or individuals within the population (Minnesota Department of Health, 2019). Individual level focuses on applying interventions to specific people rather than an entire population which may cause delays in controlling a pandemic.


Center for Global Development. (n.d.). Case 1: Eradicating smallpox Download Case 1: Eradicating smallpox.

Costantino, V., Kunasekaran, M., & MacIntyre, C. R. (2021). Modelling of optimal vaccination strategies in response to a bioterrorism-associated smallpox outbreak. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics17(3), 738–746.

Deressa, W., Kayembe, P., Neel, A. H., Mafuta, E., Seme, A., & Alonge, O. (2020). Lessons learned from the polio eradication initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia: analysis of implementation barriers and strategies. BMC Public Health20(4), 1–15.

Ibrahim, N. K. (2020). Epidemiologic surveillance for controlling Covid-19 pandemic: types, challenges, and implications. Journal of Infection and public health13(11), 1630-1638.

Minnesota Department of Health. (2019). Public health interventions: Applications for public health nursing practice (2nd ed.).

Wilson, N., Mansoor, O. D., Boyd, M. J., Kvalsvig, A., & Baker, M. G. (2021). We should not dismiss the possibility of eradicating COVID-19: Comparisons with smallpox and polio. BMJ Global Health, (8), e006810.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Poliomyelitis (polio).


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