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How Important is the Polio Vaccine?

The polio vaccine is a cornerstone of public health, having nearly eradicated a disease that once paralyzed millions. Its critical role in preventing outbreaks underscores the power of immunization. With vivid images capturing its impact, we see a world transformed by science. How has this vaccine shaped our global health landscape? Join us as we examine its profound legacy.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Oral polio vaccines.
Oral polio vaccines.

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.

The polio vaccine is typically administered as an intramuscular injection.
The polio vaccine is typically administered as an intramuscular injection.

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.

The Salk vaccine is still used to prevent the spread of polio today.
The Salk vaccine is still used to prevent the spread of polio today.

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.

The polio vaccine has largely eradicated the disease in the U.S. and many other countries.
The polio vaccine has largely eradicated the disease in the U.S. and many other countries.

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.

Many children who had polio had to live in iron lung devices in order to breathe.
Many children who had polio had to live in iron lung devices in order to breathe.

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon278136

Why is the booster vaccine for polio important?

anon2013

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

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    • Oral polio vaccines.
      By: JoLin
      Oral polio vaccines.
    • The polio vaccine is typically administered as an intramuscular injection.
      By: Jaimie Duplass
      The polio vaccine is typically administered as an intramuscular injection.
    • The Salk vaccine is still used to prevent the spread of polio today.
      By: Ilike
      The Salk vaccine is still used to prevent the spread of polio today.
    • The polio vaccine has largely eradicated the disease in the U.S. and many other countries.
      By: Filip Ristevski
      The polio vaccine has largely eradicated the disease in the U.S. and many other countries.
    • Many children who had polio had to live in iron lung devices in order to breathe.
      By: JASON WINTER
      Many children who had polio had to live in iron lung devices in order to breathe.