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Polio Questions and Answers

Got a Question? Then get an answer.


We’ve got the answers to questions raised by polio survivors across the UK

If you have a question you'd like answered let us know - email 

For additional information about polio and vaccinations, go to the NHS website

The catch up schedule for incomplete immunisation can be found on the GOV.UK website  

Medical disclaimer

The purpose of this Q&A webpage is for information only. The British Polio Fellowship disclaims all liability for any claims, losses, damages, costs and expenses incurred as a result of reliance on this information. It is not a substitute for advice from your doctor, physiotherapist or other health care professional

QUESTION: What vaccines are available across the world today?  

ANSWER: There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio. Inactivated poliovirus vaccine, or IPV, is given as an injection in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age. Only IPV has been used in the UK since 2004.

Oral poliovirus vaccine, or OPV, is still used throughout much of the world. OPV is no longer authorised or administered in the UK because of its potential to cause vaccine-derived poliovirus. The case of the samples found in sewage samples suggests that the virus may have originated in a location where the oral vaccine is administered, outside the UK.

QUESTION: What is wild-type polio and what is vaccine-derived polio?  ?  

ANSWER: Wild-type polio is the naturally occurring form of the virus. However, some people can become infected from a weakened strain of the virus that was used to make the oral polio vaccine early on. Most countries, including the UK, immunise children using a vaccine made from a form of the virus that is no longer alive.

Vaccine-derived polio can emerge if the weakened live virus contained in OPV, shed by vaccinated children, is allowed to circulate in under-immunised populations for long enough to genetically revert to a version that causes paralysis. Cases of vaccine-derived polio are not caused by a child receiving the polio vaccine.

QUESTION: As a polio survivor, who didn't have a vaccine as I had the disease, would it be possible to catch polio again and should I ask for a vaccine?  

ANSWER: The risk of you contracting polio today is very low and certainly significantly lower than it was in the 1950s. It would be wrong however to suggest there was no risk. There are three strains of the polio virus and any immunity will only work against the strain you originally contracted. The vaccine gives us the best protection against all strains of the polio virus. 


Following the recent detection of the vaccine-associated polio virus in sewage samples, UK health officials have insisted the risk to the population is low, but if you want to put your mind at ease speak to your GP surgery.

QUESTION: I know some people who are very keen wild swimmers. Should these swimmers be thinking about having a polio booster to protect themselves? 

ANSWER: The chances of catching polio in the UK from a lake or river with contaminated water is extremely low. However, if these people are not vaccinated and they are worried, they should contact their GP surgery for advice.


QUESTION: Six years ago, I went on the Polio Management course  The neurologist who spoke said that the vaccine lasts 10 years. Does that still hold true? 

ANSWER: You need a total of five doses of the polio vaccines to build up and keep your immunity. The first three doses of the polio-containing vaccine is the primary course and are given a month apart. The fourth dose is the first booster and is given five years after the completion of the primary course. The fifth dose is the second booster and is given 10 years after the first booster. 

Further boosters for those who remain in the UK are unnecessary. You may need a booster if 10 or more years have elapsed from your second booster, and you are travelling to a high polo risk country. Nonetheless, you may happen to receive a booster just because you needed a dose of tetanus vaccine, because the vaccine for adults we have in the UK is a Tetanus/Diphtheria/Polio combined vaccine.

QUESTION: When we were using live vaccines in this country, they used to vaccinate the baby & the mum.   I met a dad who had changed his baby's' nappy & caught polio - he was severely affected.

ANSWER: The childhood vaccination programme began in the UK in the 1950s and covered whooping cough and polio. An inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV) was introduced in 1956 but replaced by a live attenuated oral polio vaccine in 1962. Since 2004, the UK has used an IPV, which provides strong protection against the disease polio. Any person who is not vaccinated against polio and is likely to come into contact with the polio virus will be at risk. In this case, if the father was not vaccinated and the baby had been given the oral vaccine (1962-2004) it would shed the weakened live virus used in the vaccine, in its faeces for several weeks, thereby putting the father at risk.

QUESTION: The news about polio virus found in London came as a surprise. How does that affect us PPS people?

ANSWER: Anyone who has not had the polio vaccine, regardless of whether they have had polio, is considered unimmunised to all three polio virus strains. However, you should consider the risk of contracting polio in the UK today. It is significantly lower than it was in the 1950s. The vaccine would give you the best protection against all strains of the polio virus, but the level of probability that you will contract it again is low, even with the recent detection of the virus.

QUESTION: Will GPs now start listening to us with PPS health issues?

ANSWER: When the vaccine-associated polio virus was detected in sewage a few weeks ago, health officials insisted the risk to the population was low, but doctors and medical professionals were put on alert. This meant they have had to learn a little more about polio and the symptoms to watch out for. The press coverage has also raised awareness of polio and on Saturday 11 July there was an article in the Times newspaper about the late effects of polio and Post-Polio Syndrome. All has all helped the Fellowship get the message out to healthcare professionals and we continue to develop a Healthcare Pathway for polio survivors to give members a tool when they need a diagnosis or on-going treatment. 

There seems to be a lot of scare mongering going on now in the media, making people behave like hypochondriacs with OCD. Covid started an anxiety pandemic.

QUESTION: Will the government close all swimming pools?

ANSWER: No. There is no need for alarm and the risk of being exposed to the virus remains low. 


QUESTION: Does our domestic water supply contain the virus?

ANSWER: No, the vaccine-associated polio virus was found in sewage samples not in the domestic water supply.


QUESTION: Is this a ploy by the pharmaceutical companies to make more money out of vaccines?

ANSWER: The authorities believe the outbreak has been triggered by a person returning to the UK after having the oral polio vaccine and spreading it locally. It is unclear how much the virus has spread, but it may be confined to a single household or an extended family. Currently, the risk to the general public is considered low.

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