Definition Essay Model

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

17 Responses to Definition Essay Model

  1. rosekyd says:

    The points being made in this essay are worded so that they make you want to agree with what they are saying, this author is using the bobble head theory very nicely. Every opening statement to each paragraph is very strong to make the reader drawn and try to get why the author feels this way. The only issue for me is that polio is still an issue and I would hate to see the cure lose funding because of reasons like this although these are valid points.


  2. christianity19 says:

    This essay differs to what I thought a Definition/Categorical essay would look like because I thought I would be different in some way. One strategy I might use in my own paper is is the bobblehead strategy.


  3. honeysucklelilac says:

    recognize that you have the ability to lead the argument to change people’s mind’s to view your hypothesis the way you want them. you have control over where the paper goes, what arguments are most important to persuade your reader? try the bobblehead strategy, begin with small chunks (digestible) parts of your argument so when you get to your outrageous claim, your reader has been primed to agree with you


  4. justheretopass says:

    This essay allows the reader to do the “bobblehead” strategy. The essay has strong claims and allows you to start agreeing slowly and by the end you will fully be committed.


  5. person345 says:

    The statements in red in makes the essay flow and brings in new ideas. The bobblehead strategy is apparent here. I found myself nodding my head as I was reading this definition essay.


  6. carsonwentz1186 says:

    Very strong and bold opening to begin discussing your topic. You have taken complete control and attention of the reader to your article. This is different from what I though a definition essay would be because it takes a deeper dive into the subject than I thought and uses many different situations and brain jogging questions for the reader to think about as he/she reads.


    • davidbdale says:

      You’re right, CW. No essay has to be bland or weak, even something as innocuous-sounding as a Definition Argument. In this case, the Category of Eradicable Diseases has life-and-death consequences. More categories than you think share the same attribute. Ask yourself the “extremes” question as you build your case? What’s the most extreme outcome? What are the most extreme situations? If they include “we paralyze the children we vaccinate,” you’re onto something compelling.


  7. icedcoffeeislife says:

    The essay uses the bobblehead strategy to get you to agree with the information that is being stated. Well also highlight in red the main point of the essay to make it easier to understand the style of the essay and the agreement that is being made.


  8. capched says:

    The essay has a very clear and organized structure. Usually opening up with a question is difficult, but it was done well in this essay. It really gets the reader to start thinking about how the question will be answered. The references that were used definitely supports the topic of this essay.


    • davidbdale says:

      I’ve been waiting to be challenged for opening this essay with a Rhetorical Question, Capched, and you did not disappoint me. Thank you for the compliment that followed your challenge. If it works, as you say, it’s because the question itself contains an extremely provocative claim. Most readers would never consider that we would paralyze ANY CHILDREN to vaccinate the many, so the implied answer (SOME!) is itself a bold opening.


    • davidbdale says:

      Here’s what I find REALLY confusing. You were clearly in class on WED MAR 03. I saw you and spoke to you over Zoom. And you’ve left this Reply here after class. But you didn’t leave Notes on the Daily Agenda, where you verify your attendance and receive (when you leave them) participation credit. That neglect makes it impossible for me to know whether you’ve been in class since MON FEB 08, the last time you left Notes on the Agenda. Do you not see your 0/3 grades for all the classes since, Capched?


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