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Every year WHO conducts a polio awareness week to spread awareness about the disease and to adopt new measures to reach the goal of complete eradication. Poliomyelitis or Polio is a serious condition that is the result of the poliovirus. This virus spreads from individual to individual. It impacts one’s brain and spinal cord, often resulting in paralysis. While there is currently no cure for polio, the vaccine for polio can prevent one from getting it. An inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV) invention was by Dr. Jonas Salk and first used in 1955, and. A live attenuated (weakened) oral polio vaccine (OPV) developed by Dr. Albert Sabin and first used in 1961. As of today, the vaccine has almost eliminated the poliovirus. However, it still exists in certain countries which is why doctors recommend children get it.

Types of Polio Vaccines

Currently, there exist just two types of polio vaccines: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV vaccine) and oral polio vaccine (OPV vaccine). IPV is administered through an injection, while OPV, as the name indicates, is given orally. WHO recommends complete vaccination of children against polio. Let us understand what makes them different from each other.

  • OPV vaccine

The oral polio vaccine has been used globally as a means to protect people against the polio disease. It has been an essential element when it comes to the eradication of poliovirus. There are a variety of OPV available which contain one, a combination of two, or all three of the different types of vaccine in a weakened or attenuated form. Each of these types has their own disadvantages or advantages over others.

  • IPV vaccine

The inactivated poliovirus vaccine protects individuals against all the three variants of the poliovirus. While IPV does not contain the live virus, those who receive this vaccine tend not to shed the virus but they cannot infect others. Hence, the vaccine cannot cause the disease. However, IPV will not stop the transmission of the polio virus.

Why is the Polio Vaccine Given?

Although since its introduction in 1955, polio has been eliminated by the vaccine administered across multiple countries, the vaccine is still recommended to all children. Why is this the case? Polio still exists in other parts of the world and can be reintroduced into countries where it has been completely eradicated. For this reason, the vaccine remains to be widely administered.

How does the Polio Vaccine Work?

Attenuated poliovirus(es) contained within the IPV and OPV vaccine can replicate effectively within the intestine. However, they are around 10,000 times less capable of entering the central nervous system relative to the unattenuated wild virus. Hence, individuals with the vaccine are able to develop an immune reaction to this contained infection administered through the vaccine. Almost all countries have nearly eradicated polio through OPV which enables the interruption of the person to person transmission of the virus.

How is the Polio Vaccine Given?

Polio vaccinations prior to the 2000’s involved taking the OPV vaccine which was consumed orally. These were referred to as ‘polio drops.’ Post 2000, some countries like the United States completely switched from administering the polio drops from OPV vaccines to the IPV vaccine. The IPV, in comparison, is administered as an intramuscular or intradermal injection in the arm or leg.

Who Should Take the Polio Vaccine?

Polio is a lethal disease and it can only be fully eradicated through vaccination. All healthy children and those living in outbreak zones should take the vaccine. The polio vaccine is recommended for the following groups of individuals

  • Children:

As per WHO it’s essential for children to take the dose.

  • Travelers:

Frequent travelling from parts of the world where polio remains common, need to take the vaccine.

  • Lab Workers:

Individuals working in labs that handle specimens that contain polioviruses.

  • Medical Professionals:

Any health care professionals who may have been in close contact with a person infected with the poliovirus.

Who Should Not Take the Polio Vaccine?

Polio vaccine remains the most effective way to wipe out the disease, but just like most other vaccines, it can’t be given to people who have allergic reactions or who suffer from prolonged sickness. The poliovirus vaccine is not recommended for the following groups of people.

  • Allergic Reaction:

Anyone who has experienced a severe allergy from a prior dose of the polio vaccine.

  • Antibiotic Allergy:

Anyone who has suffered from a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics like neomycin, streptomycin, or polymyxin B.

  • Pregnant Women:

It is recommended that pregnant women avoid the vaccine if possible, although no side effects have been documented.

  • Severe Illness:

Individuals who are currently moderately or severely ill should wait to recover before receiving the vaccine.

Polio Vaccination Schedule

If one is vaccinating their children, polio vaccine dates should be planned early on so that one does not miss a vital dose. This is because children cannot receive the entire vaccine at once, and are administered the attenuated virus in four doses.

The polio vaccination schedule for children is as follows:

  • First dose at 2 months of age

  • Second dose at 4 months of age

  • Third dose at 6–18 months of age

  • A final booster dose when the child is of age 4–6 years

In some cases, the IPV vaccine is provided as a combination vaccine along with other vaccinations. In such cases, the child could receive a fifth dose of IPV.

What are the Polio Vaccine ingredients?


Usage/ Composition

Inactivated Strain

IPV, or the Salk vaccine consists of killed or inactivated poliovirus strains of all three different poliovirus types.


There exist three different types of oral polio vaccines, which might contain just one, a combination of two, or all three different serotypes of the attenuated vaccine


40D antigen units.


Antibiotics like neomycin, streptomycin and polymyxin in trace amounts.


Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative.

What Happens if I Miss a Dose?

The purpose of the vaccine is to ensure proper immunization of the body against the poliovirus. Vaccine doses should be regular as the invulnerability to the virus wears away if the dose isn't completed cyclically. In case your child misses some booked vaccinations, they might be unprotected from the virus until they get each of the vaccination doses they miss. Once the minimal time gap between doses has lapsed, it is recommended to get the next dose as early as possible.

Polio Vaccine Pros & Cons

Pros of Polio Vaccine

  • Highly-Effective: The vaccine reduces the likelihood of getting polio to about one for every 2.4 million doses distributed.
  • Life-Saver: The wild poliovirus still circulates on an endemic level in developing countries such as India, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Hence, the vaccine can protect the individuals in such countries.

  • Negligible Adverse Effects: Both types of polio vaccines have little to no side effects.

Cons of Polio Vaccine

  • The IPV vaccine is five times more expensive than OPV, but slightly safer than OPV.

Polio vaccine Side Effects

With the polio vaccine, side effects are very uncommon. If they occur, they are incredibly mild and subside within a few days. Most commonly, side effects include:

  • Redness near the injection site

  • Soreness near the injection site

  • Low-grade fever

In a few cases, some people experience shoulder pain that lasts longer than the soreness around the injection site. In about 1 case per million vaccines administered, the CDC estimates that there is a likelihood of developing an allergic reaction to the vaccine. The reaction will look like redness, hives, itching, a swollen throat or tongue, trouble breathing, and other allergic symptoms.

The Bottom Line

The only way to prevent the spread of the potentially fatal disease polio is the polio vaccine. It is very unlikely for the vaccine to cause any side effects and most people that experience side effects experience them on a mild level. In incredibly rare cases, an allergic reaction can occur from the vaccine. If your child or you have not been vaccinated against polio, talk to your doctor about your options. Your doctor can recommend the ideal dosing schedule for your overall health. These days health insurance has almost become a necessity to safeguard against diseases and ensure quality treatment when needed.


Polio Vaccine Side Effects: What to Expect - Healthline

Polio Vaccine (IPV): Purpose, Risks, Benefits - WebMD

Your Child's Immunizations: Polio Vaccine (IPV) (for Parents …

Polio Disease and Poliovirus | CDC

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