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Polio vaccine - what you need to know

All content below is taken in its entirety from the CDC Polio Vaccine Information Statement (VIS): www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/ipv.html

CDC review information for the Polio VIS:

  • Page last reviewed: April 5, 2019
  • Page last updated: October 30, 2019
  • Issue date of VIS: July 20, 2016

Content source: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

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).
  • 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 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age.

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.

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 vaccine 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 to 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.

Your provider can give you more information.

Risks of a reaction

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

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 provider.

Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Your provider will usually file this report, or you can do it yourself. Visit the VAERS website (vaers.hhs.gov) or call 1-800-822-7967. VAERS is only for reporting reactions, and VAERS staff 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. Visit the VICP website (www.hrsa.gov/vaccine-compensation/index.html) or call 1-800-338-2382 to learn about the program and about filing a claim. There is a time limit to file a claim for compensation.

How can I learn more?

  • Ask your provider.
  • Call your local or state health department.
  • Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by calling 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or visiting CDC's vaccine website.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Polio vaccine. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/ipv.html. Updated October 30, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2019.

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          Review Date: 11/1/2019

          Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 11/1/2019.

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