Polio Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know

Updated September 22, 2022: In July 2022, CDC was notified of a case of polio in an unvaccinated individual from Rockland County, New York, and is working with the New York State Department of Health on their investigation. Public health experts are seeking to understand how and where the individual was infected and to provide protective measures, such as vaccinating under- and unvaccinated individuals. This effort does not change CDC recommendations for polio vaccination. CDC urges everyone at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus who is not fully vaccinated to complete the polio vaccination series as soon as possible. This includes unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated residents of Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan Counties in New York, where poliovirus has been repeatedly detected in wastewater (sewage) during August 2022. Small updates were made on this page to clarify vaccination recommendations for adults and some other specific populations.

CDC recommends that all children get polio vaccine to protect against polio, or poliomyelitis, as part of the series of routine childhood vaccines. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since 2000. IPV is given by shot in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age. Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is used in other countries.

CDC recommends that children get four doses of polio vaccine. They should get one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months old, 4 months old, 6 through 18 months old, and 4 through 6 years old. Children who have not completed their polio vaccinations should see their healthcare professional to complete the vaccine series.

Most adults in the United States were vaccinated as children and are therefore likely to be protected from getting polio. In general, unless there are specific reasons to believe they were not vaccinated, most adults who were born and raised in the United States can assume they were vaccinated for polio as children. Polio vaccination has been part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in the United States for decades and is still part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. Adults who received any childhood vaccines in the United States almost certainly were vaccinated for polio.

Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adults who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus (see below) should receive and complete their polio vaccination series with IPV. Other adults who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated should talk with their doctor to understand their risk for polio and need for polio vaccination. Adults who completed their polio vaccination but who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus may receive one lifetime IPV booster.

Who Should Get Polio Vaccine?

Infants and Children

As part of routine childhood immunization, children in the United States should get inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to protect against polio, or poliomyelitis. They should get four doses total, with one dose at each of the following ages:

  • 2 months old
  • 4 months old
  • 6 through 18 months old
  • 4 through 6 years old

Children who have not started their polio vaccine series or who are delayed in getting all recommended doses should start as soon as possible or finish their series by following the recommended catch-up schedule.

For more information, see Vaccine Schedules for Parents.

People who plan to travel internationally should make sure they and their children are fully vaccinated against polio before departure. For more information see Polio: For Travelers.

Adults

Most adults have likely already been vaccinated against poliovirus during childhood, and that is why IPV is not part of routine adult vaccinations.

However, unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adults who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus should receive polio vaccination. Other adults who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated should talk with their doctor to understand their risk for polio and need for polio vaccination. Adults who are completely vaccinated and are planning to travel to countries with increased risk of exposure to poliovirus may receive a single lifetime booster dose of IPV.

Situations that put adults at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus include:

  • You are traveling to a country where there is a documented increased risk of exposure to poliovirus. For more information see Polio: For Travelers and ask your healthcare provider if you need to be vaccinated.
  • You are working in a laboratory or healthcare setting and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses.
  • You are a healthcare worker or caregiver who has close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus.
  • You are an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult whose children will be receiving oral poliovirus vaccine (for example, international adoptees or refugees).
  • You are an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult living or working in a community where poliovirus is circulating.

Adults at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus who have never been vaccinated against polio should get three doses of IPV:

  • The first dose at any time
  • The second dose 1 to 2 months later
  • The third dose 6 to 12 months after the second

Adults at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus who have had one or two doses of polio vaccine in the past should get the remaining one or two doses.

What Adults in the U.S. Should Know About Polio

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Adult Vaccination for Polio

Who Should Not Get Polio Vaccine?

Tell the person who is giving the vaccine:

  • If the person getting the vaccine has any severe, life-threatening allergies.
    If the person receiving the vaccine ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of IPV, or has a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, they may be advised not to get vaccinated. Ask your health care provider if you want information about vaccine components.
  • If the person getting the vaccine is not feeling well.
    If the person getting the vaccine has a mild illness, such as a cold, they can probably get the vaccine today. If they are moderately or severely ill, they should probably wait until they recover. Your doctor can advise you.

What Are the Types of Polio Vaccine?

Two types of vaccines protect against polio, or poliomyelitis.

  • Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV)
    • IPV is the only polio vaccine that has been used in the United States since 2000.
    • It is given by shot in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age.

For more information about IPV, see Vaccine Composition, Dosage, and Administration.

  • Oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV)
    • This vaccine is no longer licensed or available in the United States.
    • It is still used in many parts of the world.
    • Children receive doses of the vaccine by drops in the mouth.

For more information, see About Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

Since 2000, only IPV has been used in the United States to eliminate the risk of vaccine-derived poliovirus that can occur with OPV.

How Well Does the Polio Vaccine Work?

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since 2000. IPV protects against severe disease caused by poliovirus in almost everyone (99 out of 100) who has received all the recommended doses. Two doses of IPV provide at least 90% protection, and three doses provide at least 99% protection.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV)?

With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own, but serious reactions are also possible.

Some people get a sore spot where the shot was given. IPV has not been known to cause serious problems, and most people do not have any problems with it.

Some problems that could happen after getting this vaccine:

  • People sometimes faint after a medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by a fall. Tell your healthcare provider if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears after you get the shot.
  • Some people get more severe and lasting shoulder pain than the typical soreness that can follow injections. This happens very rarely.
  • Any medication can cause a severe allergic reaction. Such reactions from a vaccine are very rare, estimated at about one in a million doses, and would happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.

As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a serious injury or death.

The safety of vaccines is always being monitored. For more information, visit CDC’s Vaccine Safety site.

For printable information and translation to other languages, see Polio Vaccine Information Statement (VIS).

What Are the Childcare and School Polio Vaccine Requirements?

All 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have state laws that require children entering childcare or public schools to have certain vaccinations. There is no federal law that requires this.

CDC recommends that all children get four doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), with the fourth dose at 4 to 6 years of age, before or at school entry.

For more information, see State Vaccination Requirements.

How Can People Pay for Polio Vaccine?

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. However, you may want to check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor.

If you don’t have health insurance, or if your insurance does not cover vaccines for your child, the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) may be able to help. This program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. To find out if your child is eligible, visit the VFC website or ask your child’s doctor. You can also contact your state VFC coordinator.

Adults can also see Finding and Paying for Vaccines or Find a Travel Medicine Clinic.

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Page last reviewed: September 22, 2022