Article at a Glance
• Polio outbreaks have started to occur in countries previously considered polio free.
• Declining immunization rates have left some areas of the country, including Utah, at risk.
• Contact your pediatrician to make sure your children’s immunizations are up to date.
Thanks to a highly effective vaccination program, your children have probably never heard of polio. An expensive international effort has almost eliminated polio around the world, with the exception of Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
Unfortunately, we are starting to see cases of polio and polio outbreaks in countries that were once considered free of the disease.
This year, one such outbreak was seen in Tajikistan. The country was considered polio-free, but vaccination rates dipped below the herd immunity threshold in some of the country’s sub-populations. Herd immunity occurs in areas with high vaccination rates. Those who are immune to the disease provide a level of protection for those who can’t or haven’t been vaccinated. For a community to be protected against polio, the vaccination rate needs to be above 90 percent.
Experts are starting to worry about the possibility of a similar outbreak in the United States. Although nationally we have a polio vaccination rate of 93.6 percent for children between 19 and 35 months old, there are areas in the country where vaccination rates have fallen below 90 percent. With a vaccination rate of 88.2 percent, Utah is one of seven states in the country that could be potentially at risk, especially if vaccination rates continue to fall.
In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the United States. Before the vaccine, there were on average 13,000 to 20,000 reported cases of paralytic polio each year. In severe cases, polio can cause paralysis, permanent disability, or even death.
The best way to protect your children and your community from polio is by getting your children immunized. Call your pediatrician to make sure your immunizations are up to date.
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