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Polio Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Why get vaccinated?

Polio vaccine can prevent polio.

Polio (or poliomyelitis) is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by poliovirus, which can infect a person's spinal cord, leading to paralysis.

Most people infected with poliovirus have no symptoms, and many recover without complications. Some people will experience sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, or stomach pain.

A smaller group of people will develop more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord:

  • Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs),
  • Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain), or
  • Paralysis (can't move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs, or both.

Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can lead to permanent disability and death.

Improvements in limb paralysis can occur, but in some people new muscle pain and weakness may develop 15 to 40 years later. This is called "post-polio syndrome."

Polio has been eliminated from the United States, but it still occurs in other parts of the world. The best way to protect yourself and keep the United States polio-free is to maintain high immunity (protection) in the population against polio through vaccination.

Polio vaccine

Children should usually get 4 doses of polio vaccine at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and 4-6 years.

Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated against polio as children. Some adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination, including:

  • People traveling to certain parts of the world
  • Laboratory workers who might handle poliovirus
  • Health care workers treating patients who could have polio
  • Unvaccinated people whose children will be receiving oral poliovirus vaccine (for example, international adoptees or refugees)

Polio vaccine may be given as a stand-alone vaccine, or as part of a combination vaccine (a type of vaccine that combines more than one vaccine together into one shot).

Polio vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

Talk with your health care provider

Tell your vaccination provider if the person getting the vaccine:

  • Has had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of polio vaccine, or has any severe, life-threatening allergies

In some cases, your health care provider may decide to postpone polio vaccination until a future visit.

People with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated. People who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting polio vaccine.

Not much is known about the risks of this vaccine for pregnant or breastfeeding people. However, polio vaccine can be given if a pregnant person is at increased risk for infection and requires immediate protection.

Your health care provider can give you more information.

Risks of a vaccine reaction

  • A sore spot with redness, swelling, or pain where the shot is given can happen after polio vaccination.

People sometimes faint after medical procedures, including vaccination. Tell your provider if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears.

As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other serious injury, or death.

What if there is a serious problem?

An allergic reaction could occur after the vaccinated person leaves the clinic. If you see signs of a severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness), call 9-1-1 and get the person to the nearest hospital.

For other signs that concern you, call your health care provider.

Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Your health care provider will usually file this report, or you can do it yourself. Visit the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov or call 1-800-822-7967. VAERS is only for reporting reactions, and VAERS staff members do not give medical advice.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal program that was created to compensate people who may have been injured by certain vaccines. Claims regarding alleged injury or death due to vaccination have a time limit for filing, which may be as short as two years. Visit the VICP website at www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation or call 1-800-338-2382 to learn about the program and about filing a claim.

How can I learn more?

  • Ask your health care provider.
  • Call your local or state health department.
  • Visit the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for vaccine package inserts and additional information at www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/vaccines.
  • Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
    • Call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or
    • Visit CDC's website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

Vaccine Information Statement

Polio Vaccine

8/6/2021

42 U.S.C. § 300aa-26

Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Many vaccine information statements are available in Spanish and other languages. See www.immunize.org/vis

Hojas de información sobre vacunas están disponibles en español y en muchos otros idiomas. Visite www.immunize.org/vis