Polio Vaccination In London

September 14, 2023

Polio Vaccination In London

In the last 20 years or so, polio has become extremely rare in the UK. In fact, there have been no confirmed cases of anyone becoming paralysed as a result of contracting poliovirus here since 1984. It is only found in very few countries around the globe, and the reason why it is so rare is because of the polio vaccination programme, which has kept the vast majority of the population safe. 

Recently, some traces of polio have been found in the sewers in a small number of boroughs in London, and health professionals are urging every parent to ensure their child has up-to-date polio vaccines. The risk of contracting the virus still remains extremely low, however, the chance of becoming unwell from polio is greater if you are not fully vaccinated. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you and your children are up-to-date with your vaccinations.

A boy smiling whilst being vaccinated

Polio in London sewage

Between the months of February and June in 2022, traces of the polio virus were found in the sewage in a handful of London boroughs. As reported by the department of health previous detections occurred when an individual vaccinated overseas with the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) returned or travelled to the UK and briefly ‘shed’ traces of the vaccine-like poliovirus in their faeces.’ 

The virus has continued to evolve and is now classified as a ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2), which on rare occasions can cause serious illness in people who are not fully vaccinated.

The detection suggests it is likely there has been some spread between closely-linked individuals and that they are now shedding the type 2 poliovirus strain in their faeces.’

What is polio?

Polio is an extremely infectious disease caused by a virus that can cause paralysis in the spine and respiratory system, and it can be fatal. It is typically spread through faecal matter, which finds its way into water or food. The paralysis it causes can be permanent, and children are particularly vulnerable to it. 

Before the vaccine was discovered, polio was widespread, but it has been almost entirely eradicated since 1998.

Symptoms of polio

People who contract polio fall into different groups. Some will experience no symptoms at all, which is most common. In some cases, there may be symptoms similar to the flu, including:

These symptoms will be relatively mild, lasting around ten days. 

However, in rare cases, polio can cause severe weakness. It can affect the nerves and the brain, and cause paralysis, most commonly in the legs. It can also affect the muscles in your respiratory system. These symptoms often ease, but they can be permanent in some cases.

What causes polio?

Polio is extremely contagious and is typically transmitted via traces of faeces. That means that it is generally spread by someone not washing their hands properly then touching their face, or preparing food or drink for other people. Although it can be spread by coughing or sneezing, this is a lot less likely. 

The best way to make sure that you and your children are protected is to stay up to date with polio vaccines. This is particularly important if you are travelling to a country where the risk of polio is greater. General hygiene measures as always are also really important. Wash your hands regularly with soap and use hand sanitiser when you are in public spaces and before meals.

Polio vaccine schedule

The polio vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself and your children from polio. In order to fully vaccinate children, they are given the vaccine at five different points. The first vaccines are given in the first year at eight weeks old, then twelve weeks, and then sixteen weeks. This is part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. The next vaccine is given at three years and four months as part of the pre-school booster and finally at fourteen years old as part of the teenage booster.

Which vaccine does my child need?

In London, children aged 1 to 9 years old are being urged by health professionals to ensure they are up to date on their polio vaccinations. Depending on how many vaccinations they have had already, this may either bring them up to date, or be included on top of their routine vaccinations. The table below shows how many vaccinations your child will be recommended, depending on their age and how many vaccinations they should have already.

Age group

Polio vaccinations your child should already have

Recommended polio vaccinations

1 – less than 3 years and 4 months

3 doses of polio vaccine

At least 4 weeks after their last dose. A single polio booster vaccine – (Infanrix hexa or Vaxelis). 

3 years and 4 months – or less than 10 years

4 doses of polio vaccine

A single polio booster vaccine – (Boostrix-IPV or Revaxis) unless they had received their pre-school booster in the past 12 months

[the data above has been extracted UK Department of Health Guidance : Source 6]

For more guidance, please refer to the IPV Booster campaign.pdf found on the government website.

How long does the polio vaccine last?

It has been shown that people who have had the complete polio vaccine booster (which is all five) are between 99% and 100% protected against the polio virus. Make sure that your child is being vaccinated at the recommended intervals and has received the additional booster dose if they are eligible. For more information, please read our article on why vaccines are important for children.

Can you get polio after being vaccinated?

There is no reason to believe that the current rise in polio cases in London should cause any concern to anyone who has had the full set of polio vaccines and the current recommendations are precautionary.

How to book a polio vaccine

In London, children aged 1 to 9 years old are being offered the polio vaccine in response to the recent discovery of the polio virus in the sewers of some London boroughs. All children in this age group are eligible for the vaccine through their family GP. Childhealthy also offers polio vaccinations in London for children as part of the vaccine schedule, and the extra booster dose for current recommendations. 

At Childhealthy, our specialists know that the safety and the health of your children is your number one priority. We offer additional vaccines for children, such as the BCG jab, the chickenpox vaccine and the flu vaccine, as well as all vaccinations for UK and international immunisation schedules. Book a consultation today to learn more about how we can help, how our vaccine schedules work and to talk through any questions that you might have.




Disclaimer: Information contained in this article is intended as general advice and does not replace a medical assessment. If you are concerned about your child please contact your doctor for advice.


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