During a routine sewage inspection in North London this week, traces of polio were detected. The serious virus is one that was declared to be eradicated in the UK by the 1990s thanks to a national vaccine programme.
However, since being detected, health officials have expressed concern about the wider danger to the public, particularly among communities where vaccine uptake is low.
Speaking about the outbreak, Dr Vanessa Saliba of the UKHSA, said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.
“On rare occasions, it can cause paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated so if you or your child are not up to date with your polio vaccinations it’s important you contact your GP to catch up or, if unsure, check your red book.”
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How do I know if I have had the polio vaccine?
Most of the UK population is protected by polio vaccinations administered in childhood, with parental permission.
Typically, babies at eight weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks are vaccinated against polio as part of the six-in-one jab. This also protects from tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria and hepatitis B.
From three years and four months, a four-in-one booster vaccine is administered, covering polio, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria.
A three-in-one booster is later given to teenagers aged 14 in secondary or offered to children who are homeschooled. However, anyone can receive the polio vaccine or booster for free from the NHS.
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In many cases, people travelling to a high-risk country may be able to get a polio booster from their GP.
According to the NHS: “You can have a polio vaccination at any point if you’ve never had one before, even if you’re not travelling to a country with a risk of getting polio. You should also get vaccinated even if you’ve had polio before as it protects against different types of polio. It’s usually free on the NHS.”
People may also access polio vaccinations privately, though these can come at a cost.
To find out if you have had your jab or are up-to-date on boosters, you should contact your local GP surgery who will be able to access your medical notes.
How long does the polio vaccine last?
According to the Fit For Travel NHS website, UK children who have received five vaccines under the routine vaccination schedule have enough long-term protection.
NHS Fit For Travel states: “Everyone should receive a minimum of five doses of a polio-containing vaccine to have good long-term protection. This should be documented in your medical notes held by your GP.
“If you have not completed the minimum of five doses of polio-containing vaccine, you may need additional doses before you travel.
“If you have completed the minimum of five doses of polio-containing vaccine, you should have a booster dose of polio-containing vaccine if more than 10 years since any previous doses.”