Why Are We Involved

middle eastern boy receiving oral polio vaccination

The Early Years of CDC’s Fight against Polio


Feature Story

Thirty years of a Unique Partnership to End Polio-GPEI

african american women and children

In 1988, CDC partnered with GPEI to eradicate polio. We are on the “last mile” of the road to zero cases of polio globally.

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While the global push to eradicate polio is the latest chapter in CDC’s polio efforts, the fight against polio has been part of CDC’s mission since the 1950s. Shortly after the agency’s creation, CDC established a national polio surveillance unit (PSU) headed by CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) founder Alex Langmuir. CDC worked collaboratively with Dr. Jonas Salk, of the University of Pittsburgh, who developed the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in the early 1950s, and Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the early 1960s. CDC’s PSU staff and EIS officers worked to administer both the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines in the field, and also to gather and analyze surveillance data.

Elimination in the U.S.

Polio was once considered one of the most feared diseases in the United States. In the early 1950s, before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year in the United States. Following introduction of vaccines—specifically, trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955 and trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in 1963—the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s.

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Polio has been eliminated from the United States thanks to widespread polio vaccination in this country. This means that there is no year-round transmission of poliovirus in the United States. Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States. However, the virus has been brought into the country by travelers with polio. The last time this happened was in 1993. It takes only one traveler with polio to bring the disease into the United States. The best way to keep the United States polio-free is to maintain high immunity (protection) in the population against polio through vaccination.

Call to Action

The eradication of polio is an important priority for the CDC. We are closer than we have ever been to eradicating polio and it is critical that we take advantage of this opportunity.

On December 2, 2011, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to strengthen the agency’s partnership engagement through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)external icon, which is committed to completing the eradication of polio. On December 14, 2011, the support of the entire CDC community was enlisted to become active participants in an intensified effort to eradicate polio worldwide.

In the final push toward global polio eradication, CDC continues its close collaboration with partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to ensure a coordinated global and country-level response.

CDC polio eradication activities and staff have moved into the EOC operational structure to ensure maximum use of CDC resources to support polio eradication, and to scale up timely technical expertise and support for polio-infected countries and for countries at risk of polio outbreaks, in coordination with GPEI partners.

From December 2011 to December 2018, over 650 staff have supported CDC’s polio eradication efforts in the EOC and in the field. Of these, 208 staff have completed 2,120 field deployments worldwide.

The EOC has provided enhanced capacity to scale up in-country technical expertise and support for polio surveillance, planning, implementation, and monitoring of polio vaccination campaigns, strengthening routine immunization, strengthening management and accountability.

A few additional examples of CDC polio eradication activities include:

  • An in-depth review of priority countries’ polio eradication plans to assess program gaps and training needs, and elaboration of plans for CDC’s engagement in those countries.
  • Publication of several joint CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR)/World Health Organization Weekly Epidemiologic Records highlighting progress towards polio eradication worldwide; polio eradication progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan; CDC surge response to expanding outbreaks of Type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus in Africa and the Phillipines; and updates on vaccine-derived polio outbreaks.
  • Collaboration with GPEI partners on detailed country-plans for expanded technical and management support, including assistance with outbreak responses, surveillance reviews, vaccination campaign planning and monitoring, and data management.
  • The development of indicators for monitoring polio vaccination campaign performance in the areas of planning, implementation, and evaluation
  • Review of WHO proposed outbreak response protocols for all polio-affected and at-risk countries.
  • The Stop Transmission of Polio Program (STOP) deploys approximately 250 volunteers to approximately 40 countries around the world. These volunteers support polio eradication, routine immunization, measles elimination and strengthening surveillance within these countries.

Polio incidence has dropped more than 99 percent since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988. In 2018, 33 wild polio virus cases were reported, 12 in Pakistan, and 21 in Afghanistan. On May 5, 2014, WHO declared the 2014 international spread of poliovirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), issued Temporary Recommendations to reduce the international spread of poliovirus, and requested a reassessment of this situation by the Emergency Committee every three months. The 21st meeting of the Emergency Committee was held in May 2019, and WHO extended the Temporary Recommendationsexternal icon under the IHR (2005), effective May 2019.

Page last reviewed: September 15, 2020
Content source: Global Immunization