Although improved public sanitation and careful personal hygiene may help reduce the spread of polio, the most effective way to prevent the disease is with polio vaccine.
Currently, most children in the United States receive four doses of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) at the following ages:
- Two months
- Four months
- Between 6 and 18 months
- Between ages 4 and 6 when children are just entering school
IPV is 90 percent effective after two shots and 99 percent effective after three. It can't cause polio and is safe for people with weakened immune systems, although it's not certain just how protective the vaccine may be in cases of severe immune deficiency. Common side effects are pain and redness at the injection site.
Allergic reaction to the vaccine
IPV can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Because the vaccine contains trace amounts of the antibiotics streptomycin, polymyxin B and neomycin, it shouldn't be given to anyone who's had a reaction to these medications.
Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction usually occur within minutes to a few hours after the shot and may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Rapid heart rate
- Unusual paleness
- Swelling of the throat
If you or your child experiences an allergic reaction after any shot, get medical help immediately.
Fewer shots for your child
Polio vaccine is normally given in conjunction with vaccinations against other diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP), pneumococcal infections, and hepatitis B. But your child may not need to receive all these injections separately.
A combination vaccine called Pediarix is available that reduces the number of injections given during the first two years of life. Pediarix combines DTaP, hepatitis B and polio vaccine into a single vaccine. Side effects of Pediarix are similar to those of the individual vaccines administered separately, though fever is more likely to occur in children who receive Pediarix than in children who receive vaccines separately.
In the U.S., adults aren't routinely vaccinated against polio because most are already immune and the chances of contracting polio are minimal. However, certain adults at high risk of polio who have had a primary vaccination series with either IPV or the oral polio vaccine (OPV) should receive a single booster shot of IPV. A single booster dose of IPV lasts a lifetime. Adults at risk include those who are traveling to parts of the world where polio still occurs or those who care for people who may be excreting wild poliovirus.
If you're unvaccinated or your vaccination status is undocumented, get a series of primary polio vaccination shots — two doses of IPV at four– to eight–week intervals and a third dose six to 12 months after the second dose.