The Polio Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on November 18, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 18, 2014

Polio Vaccination

Polio is a serious viral disease. It used to kill or paralyze thousands of people each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 1916 epidemic claimed 6,000 lives and paralyzed 27,000 people.

Widespread vaccination changed that. Today, the United States is free from polio. There have been no reported cases for several decades. However, vaccination is still important. Polio still exists in other parts of the world. Without vaccination, infections could easily return.  

Getting Vaccinated

The only recommended polio vaccine is the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

Children

All children should be vaccinated against polio. IPV is given in four doses, as follows:

  • first dose:  2 months old
  • second dose:  4 months old
  • third dose:  between 6 and 18 months
  • fourth dose:  between 4 and 6 years old

Some children may get a fifth dose as part of a combined vaccine.

Adults

Most adults don’t need polio vaccinations since they were probably vaccinated as children. However, certain people are at higher risk of infection, including:

  • people traveling to areas where polio is still common
  • lab workers who might be exposed to polio
  • healthcare workers who might treat polio patients

These adults should be vaccinated. The amount of vaccine an adult will need varies. People who were fully vaccinated as children only need a booster. People who only got one or two shots should get any remaining doses. People who weren’t vaccinated should get all three shots.

Adults who need vaccination should ask their doctors for more information.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Certain people should not get the IPV vaccine, including:

  • anyone allergic to vaccine components including the antibiotics neomycin, polymyxin, or streptomycin
  • people who have previously had a bad reaction to IPV
  • anyone who is currently moderately to severely ill

Potential Side Effects

Severe side effects from IPV are extremely rare. However, some people experience soreness at the injection site.

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