Published: 24 October 2022
Parents of children under five in Wales are being urged to make sure their child is up to date with their vaccinations after poliovirus was found in UK waste water.
Public health experts are concerned about a ‘dual threat’ of falling vaccination uptake, and the potential transmission of the virus in the UK.
Public Health Wales data shows that uptake of the ‘6 in 1’ vaccination for polio and other diseases has fallen during the pandemic and has now dipped to 94.0 per cent, leaving thousands of children unprotected.
Poliovirus was identified in waste water surveillance in London in June 2022, although no cases of disease have yet been confirmed in Wales, or the UK.
Most people with poliovirus don't display any symptoms and won't know they're infected because they are protected from severe disease by the vaccine. For others it can cause temporary or permanent paralysis, and can be life-threatening.
Polio was eradicated in Europe in 2003, and the last case of polio in the UK was in 1984.
Dr Christopher Johnson, Interim Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme for Public Health Wales, said:
“While the risk from polio is currently low, this is because of significant public health efforts in the twentieth century to tackle the disease through vaccination programmes.
“Polio is a serious viral infection, and it is very concerning that there is evidence of transmission occurring in the UK. Thankfully, no one has yet presented with severe symptoms of the disease. If we act early and take simple steps to make sure our children are fully vaccinated, we can protect our communities in Wales, and prevent the return of this potentially life-threatening condition.
“If you have a child under five, check their personal child health record, sometimes called the ‘red book’. If you are unsure, please contact your GP surgery to check if your child is up to date with their polio vaccinations.
“If you are not up to date, book an appointment with your GP surgery to get vaccinated free on the NHS.”
Kripen Dhrona, Chief Executive of the British Polio Fellowship, said:
"Polio is a devastating, life-limiting disease and even if a person catches it and shows no immediate symptoms, it can still raise its head years later.
“I speak to polio survivors daily and many are reporting worsening pain, more paralysis, further muscle weakness in their arms, legs, hands and feet, difficulties breathing, extreme exhaustion and intolerance to cold. Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) is a growing problem and can strike a polio survivor at any time.
“Our members are shocked and horrified by the news that polio has been detected in the UK and would passionately argue with any parent, to get their loved ones vaccinated. They didn't have the opportunity when they were young. If they had, they too would have been able to play sport, run around with their friends and live an active life."
In Wales, the polio vaccine is given to children at:
You need all five of these vaccinations to be fully vaccinated against polio.
Uptake of the ‘6 in 1’ vaccine ranges by health board, from 92.1 per cent (Cardiff and Vale) to 97.1 per cent (Cwm Taf Morgannwg), and by local authority from 86.8 per cent (Denbighshire) to 98.0 per cent (Bridgend).
Public Health Wales is delivering a social media campaign targeted at parents of children under five to encourage them to ensure that their child is fully vaccinated. More information about polio is available at phw.nhs.wales/polio.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced on 22 June that it had found ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2) in sewage samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.
Vaccine-derived poliovirus is a well-documented type of poliovirus that has mutated from the strain originally contained in the oral polio vaccine.