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Polio Vaccine

Polio vaccine information

Polio, known medically as poliomyelitis, was one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. Every year, polio crippled an average of 35,000 Americans.87 Polio is caused by a virus that is spread person-to-person and can lead to paralysis or death.29,30 While up to 95% of people who are infected have no symptoms, they can still spread the disease to others.29

Polio vaccine overview

Before the polio vaccine, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of polio were reported each year in the United States.30 The US is now polio-free because of vaccination. However, that doesn't mean people don't need the polio vaccine. Polio is still common in a few countries in Asia and Africa, so an infected person could bring this highly infectious disease into the United States from overseas any time.103 Polio is usually spread through contact with the stool of an infected person, and possibly through oral and nasal secretions.104

Types of polio vaccines

Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), given as a series of 4 injections, has been used in this country since 2000. Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is used in other parts of the world.104

When to vaccinate for polio

It's recommended that children start the polio vaccine series when they are 2 months of age. They should then get another injection when they are 4 months of age, 6-18 months of age, and a booster shot when they are 4-6 years of age.49

Adults at risk for polio

Most people are vaccinated against polio as children. But some people may be at risk and should talk to their health care providers about vaccination. These include people who have never been vaccinated against polio, people who never received all recommended doses of polio vaccine, and anyone traveling to countries where polio is still common.87

Polio Vaccine Side Effects

Vaccines protect us from many dangerous diseases, saving 3 million lives every year worldwide. The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks associated with the use of vaccines.9 This page explains the safety and side effects of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which is the type of polio vaccine used in the United States.

Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) side effects

The polio vaccine used in the United States today has never been known to cause any serious problems. Most people who receive the vaccine don't have any reaction to it.

The chances that the polio vaccine will cause a bad allergic reaction are extremely small.34

If there are side effects to IPV, they are quite minimal.34 Some people get a sore spot where they received the injection. Other minor side effects may include a headache, fatigue, or a vague feeling of discomfort.104

Is it true that the polio vaccine causes polio?

No. The United States uses the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which means that the poliovirus used in the vaccine has been inactivated or killed. This killed virus cannot cause polio.87

Who shouldn't get polio vaccine

The following people should not get IPV:

  • Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotics neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B
  • Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a polio shot should not get another one
  • Anyone who is moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they feel better before getting vaccinated. If the person has a minor illness like a cold, he or she may get the vaccine105

If you're not sure whether you or your child should get vaccinated against polio, check with your health care provider.

Polio Vaccine Administration

Thanks to the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and parents who have vaccinated their children according to schedule, polio is no longer the threat it used to be. However, because polio is still common in other parts of the world, it's still important to vaccinate your child on schedule.87

Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) childhood vaccination schedule

Children should receive IPV as a series of 4 doses at the following ages:

  • 2 months of age
  • 4 months of age
  • 6-18 months of age
  • A booster shot at 4-6 years of age103

Adult polio immunization schedule

You were probably vaccinated against polio as a child, so you don't need to be vaccinated again. However, there are some adults who are at higher risk for polio. The CDC recommends that these adults consider polio vaccination:

  • Adults who are traveling to polio-endemic or high-risk areas of the world. Ask your health care provider whether you need to be vaccinated
  • Adults who handle laboratory specimens that might contain polioviruses
  • Health care workers caring for patients who could have polio or who are in close contact with an infected person103

If you're not sure whether you need to get vaccinated against polio, talk to your health care provider.

Where to get polio vaccine

You can get vaccinated against polio at your health care provider's office or at a nearby health clinic.

Download polio immunization schedules

Infants and children under 6 years of age

Children and teens 7-18 years of age

Adults

Polio Vaccine Science

The creation of the polio vaccines improved the health of people in the United States greatly. What was once a dreaded epidemic that paralyzed an average of 35,000 Americans every year is now only a memory.87 But because polio still exists in other parts of the world where people could travel to the United States any time, polio vaccination remains a national priority.106

Polio vaccine history

It's hard to believe that polio used to cause widespread panic in the United States as recently as the 1950s.87 In 1930s America, polio was such a menace that the whole country rallied to find a vaccine that would protect their children. Millions of Americans donated money toward the effort. This is why President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, created the March of Dimes.106

In the 1950s, parents tried to protect their kids by keeping them away from public pools and crowded places like movie theaters.106

In 1952, the United States had its worst polio epidemic in history. 57,800 people had the disease. In the meantime, Jonas Salk was creating the first inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) by killing the poliovirus.107 He first tested the vaccine on his own family, and then on 1.8 million schoolchildren.106,108 Millions of Americans waited to see if the vaccine worked. Finally, in 1955, it was announced that the Salk vaccine was "safe, effective and potent!"150

Just 2 years later in 1957, there were only 2500 cases of polio in the United States. In 1965, the number was down to just 61 cases.29

Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) ingredients

IPV contains inactivated or killed poliovirus, so you can't get polio from vaccination.87

Parents can be assured the additives used in vaccines are in miniscule, or trace amounts, and are only included because they are necessary. For example, formaldehyde is used in IPV to kill the poliovirus used in the vaccine. What many people don't realize is that formaldehyde is found in our bloodstream naturally. In fact, the amount of formaldehyde in our blood is 10 times greater than what is in any vaccine, including IPV.68

IPV, thimerosal and autism

IPV does not contain the vaccine preservative thimerosal.109 Even if IPV did contain thimerosal, a series of recent studies found no connection between thimerosal and autism.42