Polio eradication: the OPV paradox

Rev Med Virol. 2003 Sep-Oct;13(5):277-91. doi: 10.1002/rmv.401.


Routine and mass administration of oral polio vaccine (OPV) since 1961 has prevented many millions of cases of paralytic poliomyelitis. The public health value of this inexpensive and easily administered product has been extraordinary. Progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has further defined the value of OPV as well as its risk through vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) and vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPV). Although both are rare, once wild poliovirus transmission has been interrupted by OPV, the only poliomyelitis due to poliovirus will be caused by OPV. Poliovirus will be eradicated only when OPV use is discontinued. This paradox provides a major incentive for eventually stopping polio immunization or replacing OPV, but it also introduces complexity into the process of identifying safe and scientifically sound strategies for doing so. The core post eradication immunization issues include the risk/benefits of continued OPV use, the extent of OPV replacement with IPV, possible strategies for discontinuing OPV, and the potential for development and licensure of a safe and effective replacement for OPV. Formulation of an informed post eradication immunization policy requires careful evaluation of polio epidemiology, surveillance capability, vaccine availability, laboratory containment, and the risks posed by the very tool responsible for successful interruption of wild poliovirus transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs*
  • Poliomyelitis / prevention & control*
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated / administration & dosage*
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated / adverse effects
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated / immunology
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral / administration & dosage*
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral / adverse effects
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral / immunology


  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Inactivated
  • Poliovirus Vaccine, Oral