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Keeping the U.S. Polio-Free

CDC’s second Chief EIS Officer, Dr. Ira Myers

CDC's second Chief EIS Officer, Dr. Ira Myers, EIS '51, performing a throat swab.

Landmark vaccination and surveillance efforts along with subsequent national mass Salk and Sabin vaccination programs – with CDC epidemiologists continuing to administer vaccine and conduct disease surveillance — eradicated polio in the U.S. by 1979. Now, we are on the verge of worldwide eradication of this dreaded disease. In the U.S. meanwhile, continued protection from polio depends on continuing the impressive and historically high rate of polio vaccination. People at greatest risk include those who never had polio vaccine, or didn’t receive all the recommended doses, as well as those traveling to areas with polio cases. Vaccination will be necessary for full protection as long as polio remains in the world.

"Scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine, and the disease could get a foothold if we don’t maintain high vaccination rates," explains CDC’s Dr. Greg Wallace, Team Lead, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Polio, Epidemiology Branch, Division of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "For example, an unvaccinated U.S. resident could travel abroad and become infected before returning home. Or, a visitor to the United States could travel here while infected. The point is that one person infected with polio is all it takes to start the spread of polio to others if they are not protected by vaccination." For more about the importance of continued polio vaccination in the U.S., see “Polio: Unprotected Story,”

Polio control remains an important priority for CDC today, as it was in the 1950s. Today, with global eradication within reach, efforts are focused on those few remaining areas where polio remains widespread and where polio transmission has been re-established.