Polio (Poliomyelitis) Vaccine

What is polio?

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that is easily spread through close personal contact with an infected person or through contaminated food or water. In some cases, it can lead to paralysis, respiratory failure and even death.

Polio has been virtually eliminated in the United States and many parts of the world, but clusters of cases and small outbreaks are still reported in some parts of the world.

What is the polio vaccine?

Inactivated polio vaccine has been used to protect people against polio since 1955. Although polio has been effectively eliminated in the U.S., it is still given to protect against infection through travel. The vaccine is administered in several doses to both adults and children.

Who should get the polio vaccine?

  • All infants and children at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and a booster at 4-6 years
  • Adults who have never been vaccinated against polio and are traveling to an area where polio is common should receive two doses in a 1 to 2-month interval and a third dose 6 to 12 months later
  • Healthcare workers who have never been vaccinated against polio and are treating patients who could have polio
  • People who work in laboratories and may handle polioviruses specimens

Who should not get the polio vaccine?

  • Those with moderate or severe illness (for example, a severe cold, flu or infection of the sinuses or lungs) should not receive the vaccine until symptoms of the illness improve
  • Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should ask their doctor if they should receive the vaccine
  • Persons with hypersensitivity or an allergy to the antibiotics neomycin, polymyxin B, and streptomycin
  • Those who previously had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated

What are the side effects of the polio vaccine?

Mild-to-moderate problems

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given

Severe Problems (Rare)

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Pale skin
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.

It is extremely rare for this vaccine to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

The polio vaccine is available at:
Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.

If you believe you have a medical emergency,  please call 911.

Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines for more vaccine information.


Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2015.

Vaccine Information Statement: Polio Vaccine (What You Need to Know) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 11/08/2011. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/ipv.pdf. Accessed April 2016.

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