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How Important is the Polio Vaccine?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Polio or Infantile Paralysis used to be an extremely serious and prevalent disease in all parts of the world. While many cases of polio were mild resembling minor viruses, paralytic polio could have long-term effects on the limbs, inhibiting movement or causing complete paralysis. One need only watch the beloved violinist Itzhak Perlman use great effort to walk to a seat to perform to see the potential devastation of paralytic polio.

In the early 1900s Jonas Salk invented a polio vaccine. This vaccine was an administration of the dead polio virus, which allowed people to build up immunity to the disease and thus not contract polio. Albert Sabin developed a live virus polio vaccine in the 1960s.

By the beginning of the 1980s, polio was thought to have been completely eradicated in the US, and in other countries with complete vaccination services for children. However, the oral polio vaccine caused some problems, noted in the late 80s. Children receiving the oral vaccine first, could in very rare cases develop polio, or pass polio onto caregivers with weak immune systems.

Current guidelines suggest a first polio vaccine of the dead virus type, followed by a vaccination several months later with the oral vaccine. Though children receiving the oral vaccine can still pass the illness onto those with very weakened immune systems, chances of passing the disease to someone else is very minimal. Usually one must come into contact with the vaccinated child’s feces to be exposed. Caution during toileting and diapering usually eliminates this risk.

Occasionally there are some cases of polio, usually the severe paralytic type, which develop through exposure to the live virus in the polio vaccine. This is however, extremely rare. It does make some parents fearful of having their children receive the vaccine. However, they can opt for several doses of the dead virus, which cannot transmit polio to anyone.

Given the relative safety of both forms of the polio vaccine, it makes good sense to vaccinate. Though polio is uncommon, the disease can be devastating, altering the course of a child’s life forever. As well, supporters of vaccination in general will argue, that vaccinating children is a social responsibility, since even mild cases of polio in children could cause the death or disability of those who for some reason cannot be vaccinated, or who are immuno-suppressed.

Complete eradication of polio may not be a reality. A few cases occur each year in most stable countries where virtually all children are vaccinated. Developing countries often do not vaccinate all children, resulting in outbreaks of polio. Several outbreaks in recent years have taken place in Nigeria, the Congo, and the Sudan. Traveling to an area where polio still occurs definitely warrants vaccination.

Immigration, legal or otherwise, or travel by those from an area with non-vaccinated children to areas where polio is uncommon, can mean exposing those who are not vaccinated. Although polio is uncommon, it is still technically possible to contract it. Polio cannot be considered completely eradicated until everyone in the world is vaccinated. While getting the polio vaccine to everyone is a laudable goal, questions remain as to whether it is a feasible goal. In the meantime, receiving the polio vaccine can help reduce the spread of a grave illness.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon278136 — On Jul 04, 2012

Why is the booster vaccine for polio important?

By anon2013 — On Jun 24, 2007

What if the child withdraw or spit the OPV after or while administering the vaccine?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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