Why are we talking about polio?
Following the discovery of poliovirus in sewage in north and east London, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that a targeted inactivated polio containing vaccine (IPV) booster dose should be offered to children between the ages of one and nine in all London boroughs.
Why is this campaign being run and what is the purpose?
There are signs the virus may be spreading in London and the number of children vaccinated in London is lower than it should be. Boosting immunity in children should help protect them and reduce the risk of the virus continuing to spread.
For some children this may be an extra dose of polio containing vaccine, on top of their routine vaccinations. In other children it may just bring them up to date. This will ensure a high level of protection from any risk of paralysis, though the risks to the general population are still assessed as low. However, the number of children vaccinated in London is lower than it should be. By vaccinating children, this will protect them in case of any future outbreaks. The booster programme is part of the incident response and is available to everyone in London, however routine polio vaccination is available to everyone in England.
What is the routine polio vaccination schedule?
The polio containing vaccine is free and given as part of combined jabs to babies, toddlers and teenagers. Children need all five doses of the vaccine to be fully protected against polio. The polio vaccine is given when a child is:
- 8, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB)
- 3 years and 4 months old as part of the 4-in-1 (DTaP/IPV) pre-school booster
- 14 years old as part of the 3-in-1 (Td/IPV) teenage booster
What is being offered to children aged 1 to 9 in London?
In London, all children aged 1-9 years are being offered a dose of polio containing vaccine – whether it’s an extra dose if they are up to date with their routine vaccinations or to catch up.
A letter and text message was sent to parents of all children aged 1 to 9+364 days on 19 August 2022. The text message script is:
The NHS is inviting children aged 1 to 9 in your borough to receive a vaccine against polio. For some children this will be an additional booster dose if they are already up to date with their routine vaccinations, in others who are not up to date it will be a catch-up dose. Traces of poliovirus have been found in sewage in some London boroughs – the vaccine will boost your child’s protection. Polio can be very serious and in unvaccinated people can on rare occasions cause paralysis. You will be contacted by the NHS to book a vaccination appointment for your child.
Why are children that are up to date with their routine vaccinations being offered an additional dose in London? Are all 1-9 year olds being offered a polio booster?
Experts have advised that, as a precaution, all children aged one to nine years in London should be offered a dose of polio containing vaccine now to ensure that they are protected against polio and to stop any further spread of poliovirus in London. This is because children in this age range have not received the full programme of vaccination, so they are not yet fully protected against polio. By getting a dose now this will boost their protection against polio. In London, all children aged 1-9 years are being offered a dose of polio vaccine. This will either be a top up dose in children that are fully up to date with their routine vaccinations or a catch-up dose.
Is this an extra jab? Will children that need to catch up with their missed routine vaccination/s then get an additional dose on top of that?
For children that are fully up to date with their routine vaccinations, this will be an additional polio vaccine to enhance their protection against polio whilst it is being detected in wastewater samples. If your child is not up to date with their routine vaccinations, they will be given a catch-up dose so it will not be an additional dose.
What is the risk of not having the polio booster vaccine?
Since February 2022, we have found a type 2 polio virus in sewage samples taken from north London. This suggests that the virus is now spreading between people. This has probably happened because vaccine uptake for the infant and toddler vaccinations in London is lower than it should be.
Polio is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system – it can cause permanent paralysis of muscles. Before the polio vaccine was introduced, there were as many as 8,000 cases of polio in the UK in epidemic years. Because of the success of the polio vaccination programme, there have been no cases of natural polio infection in the UK for over 30 years (the last case was in 1984) and polio was eradicated from the whole of Europe in 2003.
The polio virus found in London should not pose any risk to those who are fully vaccinated. However, whilst it is spreading, there is a small chance that those who have not been fully vaccinated, or those who cannot respond well to vaccines, could be at risk of catching polio. The good news is that we have picked this virus up early and we want to act now to protect as many children as we can.
Boosting immunity in children aged 1 to 9 years now by offering them an extra dose of polio vaccine should help ensure they have very high levels of protection from paralysis and reduce the risk of them spreading the virus to others. It’s important all children aged 1 to 9 – even if up to date with their vaccinations – take up this vaccine when offered to further strengthen their protection against the poliovirus.
Is there anyone who does not need to get a polio dose now?
The only small group of children in London who don’t need a dose now are those who had a pre-school booster (at 3yrs 4m) in the last 12 months, but if they get an extra booster in error it won’t cause any harm.
What is the practice doing the help with the campaign?
We have invited patients aged 6-9 for their EXTRA vaccination, which can be done via the walk-in clinics detailed in the text message received. Patients who need routine vaccinations will be contacted and be offered an appointment at the i:Hub.