Polio Vaccine: What You Need to Know
Many Vaccine Information Statements are available in Spanish and other languages. See www.immunize.org/vis.
What is polio?
Polio is a disease caused by a virus. It enters a child's (or adult's) body through the mouth. Sometimes it does not cause serious illness. But sometimes it causes paralysis (can't move arm or leg). 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 for it.
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.
Most people should get polio vaccine when they are children. 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
Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But three groups of 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
- healthcare 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:
- The first dose at any time,
- The second dose 1 to 2 months later,
- The third dose 6 to 12 months after the second.
Adults in these three groups 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).
Adults in these three groups who have had 3 or more doses of polio vaccine (either IPV or OPV) in the past may get a booster dose of IPV.
Ask your health care provider for more information.
Oral Polio Vaccine: No longer recommended
There are two kinds of polio vaccine: IPV, which is the shot recommended in the United States today, and a live, oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is drops that are swallowed.
Until recently OPV was recommended for most children in the United States. OPV helped us rid the country of polio, and it is still used in many parts of the world.
Both vaccines give immunity to polio, but OPV is better at keeping the disease from spreading to other people. However, for a few people (about one in 2.4 million), OPV actually causes polio. Since the risk of getting polio in the United States is now extremely low, experts believe that using oral polio vaccine is no longer worth the slight risk, except in limited circumstances which your doctor can describe. The polio shot (IPV) does not cause polio. If you or your child will be getting OPV, ask for a copy of the OPV supplemental Vaccine Information Statement.
Some people should not get IPV or should, wait.
These people should not get IPV:
- Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotics neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B should not get the polio shot.
- Anyone who has a severe allergic reaction to a 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. The vaccine used today has never been known to cause any serious problems, and most people don't have any problems at all with it.
However, a vaccine, like any medicine, could cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. The risk of a polio shot causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
What if there is a moderate or severe reaction?
What should I look for?
Any unusual conditions, such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever or unusual behavior. Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare with any vaccine. If one were to occur, it would most likely be within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. Signs can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness. If a high fever or seizure were to occur, it would usually be within a week after the shot.
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 web site at www.vaers.hhs.gov, or by calling 1-800-822-7967.
VAERS does not provide medical advice.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
A federal program has been created to help people who may have been harmed by a vaccine.
For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call 1-800-338-2382 or visit the program's website at www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.
How can I learn more?
Ask your health care provider. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
Call your local or state health department's immunization program.
Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)
- Visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Vaccine Information Statement
42 U.S.C. Section 300aa-26
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