What It Is and What It Protects Against

Before the polio vaccine, polio afflicted thousands each year in the United States. The once rampant disease claimed 6,000 lives and paralyzed almost five times as many people during a 1916 epidemic. Vaccination against polio began in 1955; by 1970, only about 10 cases existed. Today, the United States is free from the disease, after more than 20 years of no reported cases.  However, polio does still exist in certain parts of the world, and, according to the CDC, “it would only take one case of polio from another country to bring the disease back if we were not protected by vaccine.” Continuing to vaccinate keeps us on the path to prevention, and, hopefully, to complete eradication of the disease.

General Use

The two vaccines that are used to protect against polio include:

  • IPV (inactivated polio vaccine)
  • OPV (oral polio vaccine)

The once-preferred method, OPV is associated with some risk. The oral vaccine has been reported to actually cause polio in some cases (about one in 2.4 million) making the risk (though slight) not worth the chance. The CDC recommends getting the IPV shot, which was developed to cut the risk linked with the oral vaccine, and has been used in the United States since 2000.  

For children, the 4-shot IPV dosage is as follows:

  • First dose:  2 months old
  • Second dose:  4 months old
  • Third dose:  between 6 to 18 months
  • Fourth dose:  between 4 to 6 years old

While most adults don’t need the vaccine, certain individuals are strongly recommended to get the polio vaccine, including lab workers and health care workers, both of which may be exposed to the polio virus, as well as anyone planning to travel to countries where polio still exists.

For adults, the dosage is as follows:

  • First dose: anytime
  • Second dose: one to two months later
  • Third dose: six months to one year later
  • *Booster: after receiving all three doses, adults may get a booster of IPV and should speak with their doctor.

Who Should Not Get It

Anyone who meets the following criteria should not get the IPV vaccine:

  • anyone who experienced severe allergic reaction to the following antibiotics:
    • neomycin
    • polymyxin 
    • streptomycin
  • anyone who experienced severe allergic reaction to a past polio shot
  • anyone who is currently moderately-to-severely ill is advised to wait until a full recovery before getting vaccinated; however having a mild cold does not prohibit someone from getting vaccinated

Potential Side Effects

Though the risk of serious harm from the IPV shot is extremely small compared with the actual untreated disease, the IPV does hold some mild risk.

Mild side effects include:

  • soreness or swelling at the site of the shot (serious side effects have not been reported with this vaccine).