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Polio Highlight

FAQ #6 What type of protection do polio vaccines offer?

What type of protection do polio vaccines offer?

When a child receives OPV, the vaccine virus enters the child’s mouth and gut and replicates.  The child then mounts immune responses in three places: (1) antibody response in the blood that protects against the virus invading the nervous system and causing paralysis, (2) immune response in the mouth which prevents shedding of virus in oral secretions and spread from those secretions and (3) intestinal immunity (also called gut or mucosal immunity), which prevents shedding of the virus in the stool. Thus, children vaccinated with OPV who come into contact with wild poliovirus are less likely to excrete poliovirus in their oral fluids or stool than unvaccinated persons.  The predominant mode of transmission in the developing world is thought to be fecal-oral.  Virus is shed in the feces and, in poor sanitary conditions and with suboptimal hygiene measures, can infect other persons if transmitted by dirty hands or contaminated food and water. Therefore, strong intestinal immunity prevents transmission.

IPV is an inactivated vaccine (killed virus) that stimulates a very good humoral response (antibodies in the blood) in children after only 1 or 2 doses. IPV also prevents children from excreting virus in their mouths as effectively as OPV and hence to the extent that polioviruses are transmitted through oral secretions, IPV is very effective at blocking that type of transmission.  However, IPV alone does not induce the same level of intestinal immunity as OPV.  Thus, while individuals vaccinated with IPV alone are protected against paralysis, they may excrete the virus and allow it to spread.

The combination of IPV with bOPV provides the advantages of both vaccines: strong intestinal immunity and antibody protection against the two serotypes in bOPV, types 1 and 3. This combination gives both the child and the child’s community the best protection.


FAQ #5 What is the risk for countries if they do not introduce IPV?

What is the risk for countries if they do not introduce IPV?

Two main risks are associated with OPV type 2 withdrawal:

  • immediate time-limited risk of cVDPV2 emergence; and
  • medium and long-term risks of poliovirus re-introduction from a vaccine manufacturing site, research facility or diagnostic laboratory. 

All countries face a time-limited (1-2 years) risk of cVDPV2 outbreak during OPV type 2 withdrawal if they do not introduce a dose of IPV.


Why can’t OPV withdrawal occur immediately and all countries switch entirely to IPV use instead of 1 dose in routine immunization?

Until polio transmission is interrupted globally, OPV will be a critical component of the eradication strategy. OPV is the appropriate polio vaccine for achieving the eradication of wild polioviruses worldwide because it is inexpensive, easy to administer and offers good oral and intestinal immunity, which is needed to interrupt person-to-person spread of the virus, particularly in settings of high population density and poor sanitation.

24 October - World Polio Day

World Polio Day provides governments, civil society and communities worldwide an opportunity to intensify efforts to eradicate the disease once and for all. Countries are uniting now for the common goal of global polio eradication; thanks to vaccination campaigns that have protected millions, a disease that once paralyzed 1,000 children each day is now almost history. The Americas was the first region of the world to be declared polio-free in 1994.

FAQ #4 What schedule should countries be using for IPV, and how many doses are recommended?

What schedule should countries be using for IPV, and how many doses are recommended?

In April of 2014, the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Technical Advisory Group on Vaccine-preventable Diseases (TAG) issued the following recommendations for the Region of the Americas:

  • When introducing IPV, countries should consider sequential schedules. Ideally, countries should consider two IPV doses followed by two OPV doses. However, if a country is considering only one IPV dose, this should be with the first DTP dose and followed by three OPV doses.
  • Countries should not consider moving directly to an IPV only schedule at this time, unless they meet the criteria previously recommended by TAG and WHO (low risk of transmission and importation, high homogeneous coverage, and good sanitation).

Vaccination Schedule recommended for the introduction of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in combination with the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV)









First option






Alternate option







This schedule, in addition to preparing the countries for the switch from tOPV to bOPV, has the additional advantage of lowering the incidence of VAPP cases, considering that in our Region, around 50% of VAPP cases are associated with the first dose of OPV.


What is the difference between IPV and OPV?

IPV and OPV evoke different immune responses and therefore have distinct advantages and disadvantages. To complete eradication and get the benefits of both, they should be used together.

Figure 1: A comparison of advantages and disadvantages for OPV and IPV



Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV)

    Humoral (antibodies in the blood) immunity.

    Gut/intestinal immunity.

    Easy to administer via drops.


    Vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) globally occurs in rare cases (2-4 cases per 1 million children).

    Rarely, through circulation in poorly immunized populations, the vaccine viruses mutate to circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPVs) and can cause outbreaks of paralytic polio.

Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV)

    Very good humoral immunity.

    Equivalent to OPV in inducing immunity in the oral cavity thus is as effective as OPV in stopping oral – oral transmission of virus.

    Insufficient to prevent wild polio virus (WPV) replication in guts of infected person and consequently poliovirus can still be transmitted by excretion in stool.

    Requires injection.

    More expensive than OPV.

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