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
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
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
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
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.
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.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
No. Inactivated poliovirus vaccine is made from poliovirus that has been inactivated or killed. This killed virus cannot cause polio.87
The following people should not get IPV:
If you're not sure whether you or your child should get vaccinated against polio, check with your health care provider.
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
Children should receive IPV as a series of 4 doses at the following ages:
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 and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend polio vaccination for the following at-risk groups:103, 172
If you're not sure whether you need to get vaccinated against polio, talk to your health care provider.
You can get vaccinated against polio at your health care provider's office or at a nearby health clinic.
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 with people who could travel to the United States any time, polio vaccination remains a national priority.106
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. This is why President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, created the March of Dimes. Millions of Americans donated money toward the effort.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!"106
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
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 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