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WHO temporary polio vaccine recommendations

Updated: August 15, 2014

Travel Health Notice

On May 5th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the recent spread of poliovirus (polio) a public health emergency of international concern. They issued temporary polio vaccination recommendations to prevent further spread of the virus worldwide. These recommendations focus on countries exporting wild polio and other polio affected countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. These recommendations apply to residents of these countries prior to international travel and long-term visitors (staying more than 4 weeks) to these countries.

The WHO reassessed the temporary recommendations on July 31st, and declared that the international spread of wild poliovirus in 2014 continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern and that the temporary recommendations continue to be in place. The situation will be reassessed after three months.

The Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to monitor the situation and inform the public as information becomes available.

Recommendations for travellers

Until polio has been certified as globally eradicated, there is still a risk to travellers. There is little or no risk to travellers going to regions where polio has been eliminated such as the Americas (North, Central and South America and the Caribbean), Europe and Western Pacific. The risk to travellers going outside of these regions is low but is dependent on factors such as length of stay, living conditions, and food and water hygiene at the destination.

Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel.

1) Make sure you are vaccinated

  • All travellers should keep their polio vaccination up-to date, especially if they are going to:
    • Countries where polio has not been eliminated.
    • Countries with recently imported cases of polio or where the virus has been detected.
    • Countries close to those where polio is endemic or those where recent cases have been reported.
  • For infants and children under 18 years of age: 
    • Polio is part of the routine vaccine schedule for children in Canada. See the provincial/territorial immunization schedules for further information.
    • Talk to a health care provider to adjust the routine vaccine schedule if your child has not received the doses before leaving.
  • For adults 18 years of age and older:
    • If you have completed your primary polio vaccine series and have not received a booster dose against polio since your 18th birthday:
      • Get a booster dose before leaving.
    • If you have not completed your polio vaccine series:
      • Get the remaining doses before leaving.
    • If you have not received any vaccines against polio:
      • Get fully vaccinated against polio.

2) Practise safe food and water precautions.

3) Follow the WHO temporary recommendations:

  • Travellers who intend to stay long-term (over 4 weeks) in one of the designated polio exporting countries (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Pakistan, Syria) or polio infected countries (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and Somalia):
    • It is recommended that you receive a dose of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) between four weeks and 12 months prior to travel. A polio booster may be required to exit a designated country or enter into another, even if you already received an adult booster dose over a year ago.
  • Carry the appropriate documentation:

For additional information, WHO has developed frequently asked questions for travellersExternal link about the temporary recommendations.

Recommendations for health care providers

The Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (CATMAT) has a developed a statement in accordance with the WHO temporary recommendations to provide guidance for health care professionals who are preparing travellers to visit areas with a risk of polio. It is recommended that travellers affected by these temporary recommendations carry a written vaccination record in the event that evidence of vaccination is requested for country entry or exit requirements. The Internation Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis is the official document to show proof of vaccination against polio. It is currently available at Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada.  A complete list of these centres is available on the Agency’s website.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative websiteExternal link offers additional detailed information regarding the temporary recommendations including weekly updates on the epidemiological situationExternal link and a breakdown of the number of cases of wild poliovirus by country.