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Polio virus found in UK wastewater

Parents of young children are being urged to check that their polio vaccines are up to date, as some may have missed out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has detected polio virus in sewage samples in London and it is likely there has been some spread between closely-linked people. They are now investigating to establish if the virus is spreading to others in the community

The risk to the general public is extremely low, and although no cases have been detected in Liverpool, our lower rates of uptake for polio expose us to a real threat of local outbreaks.

The UK was declared polio-free in 2003 due to high levels of vaccine coverage, however in the last few years, the uptake of childhood immunisations including polio-containing vaccines has fallen.

Parents are being urged to check their Red Book to check that their young children are up to date with their polio vaccinations. They should contact their GP surgery to book a vaccination, if they aren’t fully up to date.

Routine vaccinations give children the best protection from infectious diseases like polio and measles. Protection from polio is included in the 6-in-1 vaccine which is given to babies when they’re 8, 12 and 16 weeks old. A booster of a polio containing vaccine is also given before children start school and as part of their teenage booster when they are 14.

Uptake of the baby immunisations has always been very high in Liverpool, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake of the routine 6-in-1 vaccine for babies fell to 88% in 2020/21, down 7% from 2017/18, and lower than the national average of 92%.

Provisional figures for 2021/22 show a further decline to around 85%.

Live polio vaccine is not used in the UK as part of the routine childhood programme and is very safe.

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Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, Cllr Frazer Lake said:

“Most people in Liverpool are protected against polio from vaccination in childhood, but some children may have missed out on getting vaccinated due to the pandemic.

I urge people to check that their families are up to date with all the vaccinations they need, to protect them from serious diseases.”

Director of Public Health for Liverpool, Professor Matthew Ashton said:

“Vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children against serious infections. Although polio has not been detected in sewage outside of London, it is possible for infectious diseases to spread quickly if people are unvaccinated.

If your child has not had the vaccines they need, please contact your local GP practice to book an appointment – it’s never too late to catch up to protect your children from these potentially serious illnesses.

Vaccines are safe and highly effective. You can also ask your health visitor if you have any questions about vaccines.”