Recent polio outbreaks in Syria and Ukraine, and isolation of poliovirus from asymptomatic carriers in Israel have raised concerns that polio might endanger Europe. We devised a model to calculate the time needed to detect the first case should the disease be imported into Europe, taking the effect of vaccine coverage – both from inactivated and oral polio vaccines, also considering their differences – on the length of silent transmission into account by deriving an ‘effective’ case/infection ratio that is applicable for vaccinated populations. Using vaccine coverage data and the newly developed model, the relationship between this ratio and vaccine coverage is derived theoretically and is also numerically determined for European countries. This shows that unnoticed transmission is longer for countries with higher vaccine coverage and a higher proportion of IPV-vaccinated individuals among those vaccinated. Assuming borderline transmission (R = 1·1), the expected time to detect the first case is between 326 days and 512 days in different countries, with the number of infected individuals between 235 and 1439. Imperfect surveillance further increases these numbers, especially the number of infected until detection. While longer silent transmission does not increase the number of clinical diseases, it can make the application of traditional outbreak response methods more complicated, among others.
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