Health Library

Polio Vaccine

What Is Polio?

Polio is a serious illness caused by a virus. It still affects many parts of the world. It is nearly eliminated in the United States. It can cause:

The polio virus can be spread by person to person contact. Anyone can develop this infection.

This disease affected thousands of children each year prior to 1950 when the polio vaccine was developed. The use of the vaccine has made polio rare in developed nations.

Most people who get the infection have no symptoms at all. But some people can develop the following:

  • Mild fever
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Meningitis
  • Paralysis

Treatment aims to manage the symptoms of the disease.

What Is the Polio Vaccine?

The polio vaccine is made of inactivated polio virus. An oral vaccine containing live polio vaccine was used in the past. There was a small risk of getting polio from the oral vaccine. It is no longer recommended. Today's polio vaccine is given by injection into the arm or leg.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

The polio vaccine is recommended for all children. The vaccine can be given to babies as young as 6 weeks. This is only done if the baby is at an increased risk of infection. The regular schedule for giving the vaccine is at ages 2, 4, 6-18 months, and at 4-6 years. If the child receives the fourth dose before age 4 years, then a fifth dose will be needed between 4-6 years.

Certain higher risk adults who did not receive the polio vaccine as children should talk with their doctors about whether they should get it. These include:

  • People traveling to areas of the world where polio is common
  • Laboratory workers who handle the polio virus
  • Healthcare workers who treat patients who may have polio

What Are the Risks Associated With the Polio Vaccine?

Most people have no problems with the polio vaccine. However, some experience soreness around the area where the shot was given. Like all vaccines, the polio vaccine carries a small risk of serious reaction, such as a severe allergic reaction.

Acetaminophen is sometimes given to help prevent pain and fever that may occur after getting a vaccine. The medication may weaken the vaccine's effectiveness in infants. Discuss the risks and benefits of taking acetaminophen with your doctor.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

You should not get the polio vaccine if you:

  • Are allergic to the medicines neomycin, streptomycin, or polymyxin B
  • Have had an allergic reaction to a previous polio vaccine
  • Are very ill

What Other Ways Can Polio Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Avoiding unsanitary conditions and practicing good personal hygiene can help prevent polio.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

In the event of an outbreak, all people who have not received the polio vaccine should receive it.


Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

Vaccines & Immunizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Poliomyelitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated April 19, 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016.

Polio vaccination: who needs it? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated October 3, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2014.

Polio vaccine. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated December 2010. Accessed December 1, 2014.

Polio VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated November 8, 2011. Accessed December 1, 2014.

10/30/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Prymula R, Siegrist C, Chlibek R, et al. Effect of prophylactic paracetamol administration at time of vaccination on febrile reactions and antibody responses in children: two open-label, randomised controlled trials. Lancet. 2009;374(9698):1339.

11/9/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) regarding routine poliovirus vaccination. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2009;58(30):829-830.