What is the polio vaccine?

Polio, also called poliomyelitis, is a serious condition that’s caused by poliovirus. It spreads from person to person and can affect your brain and spinal cord, leading to paralysis. While there’s no cure for polio, the polio vaccine can prevent it.

Since the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955, polio has been eliminated in the United States. However, it still exists in other parts of the world and could be brought to the United States again. That’s why doctors still recommend that all children receive the polio vaccine.

There are two types of poliovirus vaccine: inactivated and oral. The inactivated poliovirus vaccine is currently the only type used in the United States.

While the vaccine has almost eliminated polio in many countries, it can cause a few side effects. Read on to learn more about them.

Side effects are very uncommon with the polio vaccine. They’re usually very mild and go away within a few days. The most common side effects include:

  • soreness near the injection site
  • redness near the injection site
  • low-grade fever

In rare cases, some people experience shoulder pain that lasts longer and is more severe than the usual soreness felt around the injection site.

The main serious side effect associated with the polio vaccine is an allergic reaction, though this is very rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 1 million doses causes an allergic reaction. These reactions usually happen within a few minutes or hours of receiving the vaccination.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • hives
  • itching
  • flushed skin
  • paleness
  • low blood pressure
  • swollen throat or tongue
  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing
  • rapid or weak pulse
  • swelling of the face or lips
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • blue-colored skin

If you or someone else experiences any of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, seek emergency medical treatment.

What about thimerosal?

Some parents avoid vaccinating their children due to concerns about thimerosal. This is a mercury-based preservative once thought by some to cause autism.

However, there isn’t any scientific evidence linking thimerosal to autism. Thimerosal hasn’t been used in childhood vaccines since 2001 and the polio vaccine has never contained thimerosal.

Learn more about the debate surrounding vaccine safety.


Most people are vaccinated as children. Doctors recommend that every child receive the polio vaccine unless they have a known allergy to it. The dosing schedule varies, but it’s generally given at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years


Adults in the United States only need a polio vaccination if they didn’t receive some or all of the recommended doses as a child and have certain risk factors. Your doctor might recommend getting the vaccination as an adult if you:

  • travel to countries where polio is more prevalent
  • work in a laboratory where you might handle poliovirus
  • work in healthcare with people who could have polio

If you need the vaccine as an adult, you’ll likely receive it over the course of one to three doses, depending on how many doses you’ve received in the past.

The only people who shouldn’t get the polio vaccine are those with a history of severe allergic reactions to it. You should also avoid the vaccine if you’re allergic to:

You should also wait to get the polio vaccine if you have a moderate or serious illness. It’s fine if you have something mild, such as a cold. However, if you have a fever or more serious infection, your doctor may advise you to wait a period of time before getting vaccinated.

The polio vaccine is the only way to prevent polio, which can be fatal.

The vaccine usually doesn’t cause any side effects. When it does, they’re typically very mild. However, in very rare cases, you can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

If you or your child haven’t been vaccinated, talk to your doctor about your options. They can recommend the best dosing schedule for your needs and overall health.