May 31, 2022

The Polio Vaccine: 5 Reasons to Get One Before Travelling

Poliomyelitis (generally known as polio) is a virus that enters the body through the mouth or nose. It is often spread through contaminated water and food, or by poor handwashing after having contact with infected faeces. Once it’s entered the body, polio develops in the throat and bowels and can then spread through the bloodstream and to the nervous system where it can quickly multiply. In some cases, polio can cause muscle weakness and even paralysis. 

Although there hasn’t been a case of polio in the UK since 1993, there are certain countries where it can still be found. This is something travellers should be aware of before planning their trip as there is still no cure for the disease so it is vital to lower the chances of it being brought back into the UK. Thanks to the polio vaccine – discovered by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1953 – we are able to lower the risk of catching polio.

There are several reasons why getting the polio vaccine to travel outside of the UK is necessary.


1. Certain Countries Require the Polio Vaccine Before Entering


Businessman with luggage using mobile phone at airport

The below countries may require a visitor to show a polio vaccination certificate as proof of receiving the vaccine before entering:

– India

– Maldives

– Sri Lanka

– Pakistan

– Egypt

– Lithuania

– Saudi Arabia

It is particularly important for travellers to be vaccinated if they’re planning to attend a religious pilgrimage in one of the above countries as restrictions can be tightened during these events. 

Before planning a trip outside of the UK, it is recommended that individuals check whether a polio vaccination certificate for international travel is required. Some countries can deny travellers entry if they don’t have the required certificate as evidence of receiving the vaccine.

The polio vaccination certificate is only valid for one year when travelling to certain countries, such as Pakistan and Nigeria. 


2. More People Being Vaccinated Can Stop Global Viral Transmission


Vaccine being retrieved from vial into needle

Polio is highly contagious, which is concerning since there are still two countries that haven’t been able to eradicate the disease: Pakistan and Afghanistan. The infected countries have dropped dramatically as originally there were 125 with reported cases of polio, with more than 1,000 children paralysed every day. 

The reason polio can spread so fast is because the symptoms can sometimes be easily missed. It can take weeks before a person realises that they are infected, and by then, the disease will have travelled far, infecting many other individuals. So the more people who have received the correct travel vaccines, the less likely diseases such as polio will infect and spread. 


3. You Need a Minimum of 5 Polio Vaccine Doses For Long-Term Protection


global transmission

Two doses of the vaccine is at least 90% effective against polio. Usually, five doses of the polio vaccine, given at the appropriate intervals, will provide long-term protection. 

In the UK, children should be given five injections to protect against polio. These will usually be given at specific points as the child ages. 

If an individual has never been vaccinated, then they should arrange to have a vaccination before travelling to a polio-infected country. If it’s been over ten years since someone last had a dose of the polio vaccine, then they should arrange to have a booster dose before travelling to a country where there are recent reports of polio.


4. The Polio Vaccine Also Protects You Against Other Diseases


doctor injecting polio vaccine in patient's arm

Another advantage to having a polio vaccine is that it can help protect the body against other infections. 

The vaccination can protect against:

– Diphtheria

– Tetanus

Diphtheria is an infection that can lead to breathing difficulties, heart problems, and paralysis. Diphtheria is usually spread by coughing or sneezing or through items belonging to the infected. The disease in the UK is very rare, but it can still be found in other parts of the world, such as Africa and South Asia.

Tetanus is an infection that causes muscle contractions, often affecting the jaw and neck with cramps, or even locking the muscles. Tetanus bacteria usually gets into the body through broken skin such as a wound caused by a contaminated object. If you plan on travelling to a country where medical facilities are limited – which means less people will be vaccinated – then a booster dose is recommended if the last dose was more than ten years ago.

You should arrange to have the Diphtheria, tetanus, and polio vaccine (also known as the DTaP vaccine) before travelling to a high-risk country.


5. There is No Cure For Polio


Closeup view of pharmacist hand taking medicine box from the shelf in drug store.

As previously mentioned, there is no cure for polio, and since the symptoms can lead to death, it makes it extremely important to receive the vaccine before travelling to countries where polio is still present and recent cases have been reported.

Before travelling outside of the UK, it is recommended that travellers research the country they plan on visiting to ensure they have the required vaccinations – and will be able to show proof of a polio vaccination certificate if needed – so that they can feel confident with being less at risk of catching an infection and spreading the disease.


What are the side effects of the polio vaccine?

It is worth knowing the side effects that can occur after being vaccinated. Some of the side effects can be serious and may require urgent medical attention. 

Common side effects after receiving the polio vaccination include:

–  Swelling, redness, or irritated skin around the injected area

– Tiredness

– Joint pain

– Feeling sick/vomiting

– Body aching

Serious side effects to watch out for after receiving the polio vaccination:

– Seizures

– High fever

– Fainting

– Extreme tiredness

If you experience any of the above symptoms, then you should tell your doctor immediately.

Do you require a polio vaccine? Are you visiting any of the countries mentioned that require a polio vaccination certificate for international travel? Then book your appointment today.