Dynamics affecting the risk of silent circulation when oral polio vaccination is stopped

J.S. Koopman, C.J. Henry, J.H. Park, M.C. Eisenberg, E.L. Ionides, J.N. Eisenberg


March 1, 2017


Waning immunity could allow transmission of polioviruses without causing poliomyelitis by promoting silent circulation (SC). Undetected SC when oral polio vaccine (OPV) use is stopped could cause difficult to control epidemics. Little is known about waning. To develop theory about what generates SC, we modeled a range of waning patterns. We varied both OPV and wild polio virus (WPV) transmissibility, the time from beginning vaccination to reaching low polio levels, and the infection to paralysis ratio (IPR). There was longer SC when waning continued over time rather than stopping after a few years, when WPV transmissibility was higher or OPV transmissibility was lower, and when the IPR was higher. These interacted in a way that makes recent emergence of prolonged SC a possibility. As the time to reach low infection levels increased, vaccine rates needed to eliminate polio increased and a threshold was passed where prolonged low-level SC emerged. These phenomena were caused by increased contributions to the force of infection from reinfections. The resulting SC occurs at low levels that would be difficult to detect using environmental surveillance. For all waning patterns, modest levels of vaccination of adults shortened SC. Previous modeling studies may have missed these phenomena because (1) they used models with no or very short duration waning and (2) they fit models to paralytic polio case counts. Our analyses show that polio case counts cannot predict SC because nearly identical polio case count patterns can be generated by a range of waning patterns that generate different patterns of SC. We conclude that the possibility of prolonged SC is real but unquantified, that vaccinating modest fractions of adults could reduce SC risk, and that joint analysis of acute flaccid paralysis and environmental surveillance data can help assess SC risks and ensure low risks before stopping OPV.