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Polio Vaccine

By

Margot L. Savoy

, MD, MPH, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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The polio vaccine protects against polio, a very contagious viral infection that affects the spinal cord and brain. Polio can cause permanent muscle weakness, paralysis, and sometimes death.

Two formulations are available:

  • One that contains killed virus and is injected into a muscle or under the skin

  • One that contains live, weakened (attenuated) virus and is taken by mouth

The live-virus vaccine is no longer available in the United States because it can mutate to a strain that causes polio in about 1 of every 2.4 million people who receive the vaccine.

The polio vaccine may be combined with other vaccines, such as the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine and sometimes hepatitis B vaccine or Haemophilus influenzae vaccine.

For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Polio vaccine information statement.

Administration

As a part of routine childhood vaccination, the polio vaccine is given in four doses: at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.

Because polio is now so rare in the United States, unvaccinated people over 18 years of age are not given the vaccine unless they are likely to be exposed to the polio virus—for example, if they are traveling to an area where polio is common (see CDC: Travelers' Health), working in a laboratory with materials that may contain the virus, or treating people who may have polio.

If people have a temporary illness, doctors usually wait to give the vaccine until the illness resolves (see also CDC: Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated With These Vaccines?).

Side Effects

People who have allergies to the antibiotics streptomycin, neomycin, or polymyxin B may have an allergic reaction to the polio vaccine. The vaccine may contain small amounts of these antibiotics.

More Information

The following are some English-language resources that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Information statement about polio vaccine

  • CDC: Travelers' Health: Information about travel health notices and about what vaccines to get depending on destination

  • CDC: Information about people who should NOT get vaccinated with polio vaccine

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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