Merck Manual

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Polio Vaccine

By

Margot L. Savoy

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

Full review/revision Jan 2023
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The polio vaccine protects against polio Polio Polio is a highly contagious, sometimes fatal enterovirus infection that affects nerves and can cause permanent muscle weakness, paralysis, and other symptoms. Polio is caused by a virus and... read more , 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 of Polio Vaccine

Polio is extremely rare in the United States. The risk of exposure may be increased if people travel to an area where polio is common (see CDC: Travelers' Health), work in a laboratory with materials that may contain the virus, or provide medical care to people who have polio.

If adults are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated and are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus, they should receive and complete the polio vaccination series. Other adults who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated should talk with their doctor to understand their risk of polio and whether they should receive polio vaccination. Adults who completed their polio vaccination but who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus may receive one lifetime booster.

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 of Polio Vaccine

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

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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