Understanding the Polio Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Why Get Vaccinated?

Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is a potentially devastating disease caused by the poliovirus. In some cases, this virus can invade an individual's spinal cord, leading to paralysis. While most infected individuals exhibit no symptoms, others may experience sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, or stomach pain. In more severe instances, the virus can cause pins and needles sensations in the legs, meningitis, or paralysis.

The most concerning aspect of polio is its potential to cause permanent disability or even death. Furthermore, some individuals may develop post-polio syndrome decades later, experiencing new muscle pain and weakness.

Although polio has been eradicated in the United States, it persists in other parts of the world. The best way to keep our population safe and to maintain the polio-free status of the US is through high levels of immunity, achieved via the polio vaccine.

The Vaccine

Children typically receive 4 doses of the polio vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months, and 4-6 years. Most adults do not need the polio vaccine, as they were vaccinated during childhood. However, certain adults at higher risk should consider vaccination. This includes those traveling to regions where polio is prevalent, laboratory workers potentially exposed to the poliovirus, health care providers treating potential polio patients, and unvaccinated individuals whose children will receive the oral poliovirus vaccine.

The polio vaccine may be given as a standalone or as part of a combination vaccine. It can also be administered concurrently with other vaccines.

Talk with Your Healthcare Provider

Before receiving the vaccine, inform your healthcare provider of any previous allergic reactions to the polio vaccine or other severe, life-threatening allergies.

In some circumstances, your healthcare provider may postpone the vaccination. Individuals with minor illnesses may be vaccinated, but those with moderate or severe illnesses should usually wait until they recover before receiving the polio vaccine.

Little is known about the risks of the vaccine for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. However, if a pregnant person is at an increased risk of infection and needs immediate protection, the vaccine may be administered.

Risks of a Vaccine Reaction

As with all vaccines, the polio vaccine may cause side effects. These may include a sore spot with redness, swelling, or pain at the injection site. Some individuals may faint after vaccination, so alert your provider if you experience dizziness, vision changes, or ringing in the ears.

Severe allergic reactions, serious injury, or death due to the vaccine are very rare but possible.

What if There is a Serious Problem?

A severe allergic reaction could occur after leaving the clinic. If you observe signs of a severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness), call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you notice other signs that concern you, contact your healthcare provider. Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). You can reach VAERS at 1-800-822-7967 or on the VAERS website. Please note that VAERS does not provide medical advice.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is available to compensate those who may have been injured by certain vaccines. To learn more about the program or filing a claim, visit the VICP website or call 1-800-338-2382.

For more information, talk to your healthcare provider, call your local or state health department, visit the FDA’s website for vaccine package inserts, or contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO). Additional information is available on the CDC’s polio vaccine webpage.

Are a Pediatrician, Pediatric or Family
Nurse Practitioner, Medical Assistant or Medical Receptionist who loves kids and is interested in working with us?

Email your resume to [email protected]