What is polio?
Polio is a disease caused by a virus. It enters the body through the mouth. Usually it does not cause serious illness. But sometimes it causes paralysis (can’t move arm or leg), and it can cause meningitis (irritation of the lining of the brain). It can kill people who get it, usually by paralyzing the muscles that help them breathe.
Polio used to be very common in the United States. It paralyzed and killed thousands of people a year before we had a vaccine.
Why get vaccinated?
Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) can prevent polio.
History: A 1916 polio epidemic in the United States killed 6,000 people and paralyzed 27,000 more. In the early 1950's there were more than 20,000 cases of polio each year. Polio vaccination was begun in 1955. By 1960 the number of cases had dropped to about 3,000, and by 1979 there were only about 10. The success of polio vaccination in the U.S. and other countries sparked a world-wide effort to eliminate polio.
Today: No wild polio has been reported in the United States for over 20 years. But the disease is still common in some parts of the world. It would only take one case of polio from another country to bring the disease back if we were not protected by vaccine. If the effort to eliminate the disease from the world is successful, some day we won't need polio vaccine. Until then, we need to keep getting our children vaccinated.
Who should get polio vaccine and when?
IPV is a shot, given in the leg or arm, depending on age. Polio vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
Children get 4 doses of IPV, at these ages:
- A dose at 2 months
- A dose at 4 months
- A dose at 6-18 months
- A booster dose at 4-6 years
Some “combination” vaccines (several different vaccines in the same shot) contain IPV. Children getting these vaccines may get one more (5th) dose of polio vaccine. This is not a problem.
Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But some adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination:
- People traveling to areas of the world where polio is common,
- Laboratory workers who might handle polio virus, and
- Health care workers treating patients who could have polio.
Adults in these three groups:
- Who have never been vaccinated against polio should get 3 doses of IPV: Two doses separated by 1 to 2 months, and a third dose 6 to 12 months after the second.
- Who have had 1 or 2 doses of polio vaccine in the past should get the remaining 1 or 2 doses. It doesn't matter how long it has been since the earlier dose(s).
- Who have had 3 or more doses of polio vaccine (either IPV or OPV) in the past may get a booster dose of IPV.
Your doctor can give you more information.
Some people should not get IPV or should, wait
These people should not get IPV:
- Anyone with a life-threatening allergy to any component of IPV, including the antibiotics neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B, should not get polio vaccine. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.
- Anyone who had a severe allergic reaction to a previous polio shot should not get another one.
These people should wait:
- Anyone who is moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting polio vaccine. People with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated.
Ask your health care provider for more information.
What are the risks from IPV?
Some people who get IPV get a sore spot where the shot was given. IPV has not been known to cause serious problems, and most people don’t have any problems at all with it.
However, any medicine could cause a serious side effect, such as a severe allergic reaction or even death. The risk of polio vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small.
What if there is a moderate or severe problem?
What should I look for?
- Look for any unusual condition, such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever, or unusual behavior.
If a serious allergic reaction occurred, it would happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, weakness, hoarseness or wheezing, a fast heart beat, hives, dizziness, paleness, or swelling of the throat.
What should I do?
- Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
- Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form.
Or you can file this report through the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov or by calling 1-800-822-7967.
VAERS does not provide medical advise.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was created in 1986.
Persons who believe they may have been injured by a vaccine can learn about the program and about filing a claim by calling 1-800-338-2382 or visiting the VICP website at www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.
How can I learn more?
- Ask your doctor. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
- Call your local or state health department.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):