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Polio Vaccine: Everything You Need to Know

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a life-threatening virus that is most well-known for causing temporary or lifelong paralysis. While wild poliovirus type 2 and type 3 have been certified as eradicated, two nations still have an endemic spread of type 1 — Pakistan and Afghanistan[2]. The last imported case of polio in America was in 1993, and the last case in Europe was in 2002 [3],[4].

Although polio is no longer a significant health threat, it is still important to continue vaccinating on schedule, as large pockets of unvaccinated people could cause the nearly extinct virus to start spreading again. It is recommended to get vaccinated against all three different types of polio, as having only one will make you immune to the specific type[1].

The Polio vaccine

There are two types of polio vaccines:
  1. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)
  2. Oral polio vaccine (OPV)

Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)

The oral polio vaccine gives an attenuated form of the virus which means it is much weaker than wild polio and stimulates a similar immune response to wild polio. The inactivated polio vaccine is taken via injection and can be administered with a concoction of other vaccines such as tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, etc.

Adverse side effects from taking the inactivated polio vaccine are usually very mild[12].

Oral polio vaccine (OPV)

OPV is taken orally. There are different types of OPV, which may contain one, a combination of two, or all three different serotypes. The OPV also mimics the immune response following infection with wild polioviruses, but with a reduced chance of the virus spreading to the central nervous system[12].

At OT&P we recommend inactivated polio vaccine which is typically given in combination with other vaccines.


What Does the Polio Vaccine Do?

The polio vaccine is crucial in preventing poliomyelitis, a virus that can lead to severe paralysis. By stimulating the immune system to recognise and fight the poliovirus, the vaccine helps individuals develop immunity without experiencing the disease. The oral polio vaccine (OPV) introduces a weakened form of the virus, triggering a natural immune response. In contrast, the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) uses a killed virus to produce a similar effect safely. Both types of vaccines are designed to stop the transmission of the virus and prevent the outbreak of the disease, especially in areas where polio remains a threat.


Is the Polio Vaccine Good for Life?

Polio vaccination is generally long-lasting but might not provide lifelong immunity for everyone. The initial series of vaccines administered in childhood typically create a strong defence against the virus. However, in certain circumstances, such as travelling to areas where polio remains endemic, a booster dose may be recommended to ensure continued protection. It is essential to consult healthcare providers to review your vaccination history and assess whether a booster is necessary to maintain immunity against polio in the long term.


When Should I Get the Polio Vaccine?

If you don’t have the vaccine yet, it is vital to get it, especially when travelling to a country with cases of wild polio. Infants who have not had the polio vaccine yet are advised not to visit areas with high rates of polio until they can get vaccinated[13].

Hong Kong’s Family Health Service recommends children get the three doses of the polio vaccine within the first years of their life (usually months 2,4, and 6). Then at about 18 months, an additional booster dose[14].

When travelling to countries with known polio, the travel health service of Hong Kong recommends that you take an additional dose, even if you’re already fully vaccinated, to ensure safety against any wild strain of polio fully.

Speak to your doctor before travelling to ensure you get the correct vaccine schedule and immunise against vaccine-preventable diseases.


  1. National Health Service. (2018). 'Polio'. NHS. 30 July 2018. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). 'CDC global health - Polio - our progress'. CDC. 19 March 2021. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). 'Polio elimination in the United States'. CDC. 23 July 2021. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  4. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (2019). 'Update on the global polio situation and implications for the EU/EEA'. ECDC. 6 December 2019. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). 'World polio day 2020'. CDC. 21 October 2020. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  6. World Health Organization. (2019). 'Poliomyelitis'. WHO. 22 July 2019. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  7. Johnson, S. (2018). 'Polio: Types, causes, & symptoms'. Healthline. 17 September 2018. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). 'Post-polio syndrome'. CDC. 25 October 2019. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  9. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.). 'Polio'. Availabel at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  10. World Health Organization. (2018). 'Poliomyelitis: Does polio still exist? Is it curable?'. WHO. 14 March 2018. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). 'Polio vaccine effectiveness and duration of protection'. CDC. 4 May 2018. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  12. World Health Organization. (n.d.). 'Poliomyelitis'. WHO. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  13. Travel Health Services. (2020). 'Poliomyelitis Vaccination'. Department of Health. 28 December 2020. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  14. Family Health Services. (2017). 'Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV)'. Department of Health. July 2017. Available at:  <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]
  15. World Health Organization. (2017). 'Poliomyelitis: Vaccine derived polio'. WHO. 19 April 2017. Available at: <>. [Accessed 29 September 2021]

Topics: Vaccinations

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OT&P Healthcare

OT&P Healthcare is a Premium Private Healthcare Practice in Hong Kong. Our priority is to help individuals to enhance and optimise their health by providing easy access to a wide range of excellent practitioners and information, supported by management systems and technology that ensure quality of service and value. Our Mission is to provide pre-eminent private healthcare in Hong Kong. We aim to be the best in class fully integrated healthcare service, providing a circle of care for all our patients' needs.