What is Polio?
Polio is a highly infectious disease that spreads through person-to-person contact and mainly affects children under the age of five. While most people infected with polio are asymptomatic and remain unaware of their infection, 1 in 200 polio cases leads to irreversible paralysis.
Thankfully, there is an effective polio vaccine, which was first developed in 1952. In 1962, an oral polio vaccine became available, allowing health workers to immunize children around the world faster and more efficiently.
No cases of polio have originated in the United States since 1979, but the wild virus has been brought into the country by travelers. As long as the virus is still circulating, no child is safe from polio. Ensuring all people have access to the vaccine is the best way to keep everyone safe from polio.
Despite the enormous progress against polio that vaccines have made possible–the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979–we still have work to do. Africa was declared polio-free as recently as 2020, but new cases of the wild virus have been detected. We must ensure all children have access to polio vaccines to prevent future outbreaks and finally end polio for good.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is a major global health partnership launched in 1988, when polio was paralyzing hundreds of thousands of children each year. Since then, GPEI has helped countries make huge progress to protect people from this debilitating disease. GPEI partners and national governments work together to vaccinate over 400 million children each year. As a result, the global incidence of polio has decreased by 99.9%, and more than 20 million people are walking today who would have otherwise been paralyzed.
Now the task remains to tackle polio in its last few strongholds—Afghanistan and Pakistan—and rid the world of the final 0.1% of polio cases. GPEI continues to work with governments to strengthen routine immunization systems, strengthen polio case tracking and response systems, and conduct mass immunization campaigns where needed.
Shot@Life supports GPEI in working to raise awareness about the continued threat of polio, including by commemorating World Polio Day each year on October 24. Throughout the year, Shot@Life Champions contact their members of Congress to advocate for federal funding for USAID and CDC programs working with GPEI to eradicate polio once and for all. Since 2012, Shot@Life has separately raised money with the help of partners to provide more than 80 million polio vaccines to children in low-income countries.
Shot@Life Champions work to ensure the U.S. government remains an active partner and funder of polio eradication efforts, namely through the federal budget line items for USAID and CDC’s global polio eradication programs that total more than $250 million annually. Since 2012, Shot@ Life has also separately raised money to provide more than 80 million polio vaccines to children in low-income countries.