Polio Disease and Vaccine
- Poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, is an infection caused by a virus that multiplies in the gastrointestinal tract. There are three main serotypes of polio virus: PCV1, PCV2 and PCV3.. Polio is transmitted when the virus enters the mouth or nose and infects the throat and gastrointestinal tract.
- In about 95% of cases, polio infection is subclinical and does not cause symptoms. In 4-5% of cases there may be minor symptoms, such as sore throat, low grade fever, headache, fatigue and nausea followed by stiff neck, meningitis (brain inflammation) and temporary paralysis of an arm or leg but there is full recovery within a few weeks. In less than 1% of cases, the polio virus infects the central nervous system and paralyzes the muscles of the arms and legs or muscles needed for breathing and swallowing, which can lead to permanent paralysis or death. Some adults, who appear to have fully recovered from polio as children, have developed post-polio syndrome (PPS) and experience weakness and pain in muscles and joints.
- The live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV) can cause vaccine strain polio in the vaccinated person or can cause vaccine strain polio in a person, who comes in contact with a recently vaccinated person’s body fluids (urine, stool, saliva) because the vaccine strain polio virus is shed for several weeks after vaccination. Vaccine strain polio can cause mild or severe and permanent paralysis similar to the paralysis caused by wild type polio.
- As of 1999, use of OPV was discontinued in the U.S. and replaced with inactivated, injectable polio vaccine, which cannot cause vaccine strain polio. However, OPV is used widely in annual polio vaccine campaigns targeting children in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
- Polio was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 1979 and eradicated in the western hemisphere in 1994. Today, globally it is an infectious disease that affects children living in poverty in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, where sanitation and hygiene is poor and access to clean water and food is limited.
- Two different kinds of polio vaccines have been given to children in the U.S. since the 1950’s and 1960’s: a live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer used in the U.S. but is given to children in other parts of the world; and an inactivated, injectable polio vaccine (IPV), which has been given to children in the U.S. since 2000. Both live and inactivated polio vaccines contain PCV1, PCV2 and PCV 3.
- There are four inactivated, injectable polio vaccines licensed and marketed in the U.S. by pharmaceutical companies. Three of the polio containing vaccines are combination vaccines that include additional vaccines to prevent other viral or bacterial infections.
- The CDC recommends that infants and children receive a total of four doses of IPV with a dose at two and four months, between 6 and 18 months and between four and six years old.
- Commonly reported IPV reactions include fever, irritability and crying, local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at injection site), drowsiness, vomiting and loss of appetite. However, because most IPV is included with other vaccines in combination shots in the U.S., the vaccine manufacturer product insert for each combination vaccine should be reviewed to learn about vaccine reaction symptoms and contraindications before vaccination.
- The live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV) can cause vaccine strain polio in the vaccinated person or can cause vaccine strain polio in a person, who comes in contact with a recently vaccinated person’s body fluids (urine, stool, saliva) because the vaccine strain polio virus is shed for several weeks after vaccination. Vaccine strain polio can cause mild or severe and permanent paralysis similar to the paralysis caused by wild type polio. Vaccine strain polio continues to occur in countries where children receive OPV, especially in areas where poor sanitation and hygiene facilitate the spread of vaccine strain polio.
- As of July 1, 2019, there had been 310 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following OPV containing vaccines, including 28 deaths and 282 serious injuries. There had been 482 claims for injuries and deaths following IPV containing vaccines, including 72 deaths and 410 serious injuries.
- Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of May 31, 2019 there had been 24,790 adverse events reported following OPV with 1,033 deaths (nearly 90% in children under age six). There had been 70,344 reports of adverse events associated with IPV containing vaccines with 1,550 deaths (more than 93% in children under age six).
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Polio (Pediarix) GlaxoSmithKline and Licensing Information
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio (Kinrix) GlaxoSmithKline and Licensing Information
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Haemophilus b (Pentacel) Sanofi Pasteur and Licensing Information
- Polio (Monkey Kidney Cell) (IPOL) Sanofi Pasteur and Licensing Information
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
NIAID Workshop Development of Guillain Barre Syndrome
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients
Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.
Search for Vaccine Reactions
NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.
Reporting a Vaccine Reaction
Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Polio and the Polio vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
Other Quick Facts References:
Hearings, Workshops and NVIC Testimony
NVIC's Polio Commentaries and Video Collection
NVIC Polio Video Playlist
View the collection of video resources within the player below for more information on polio and the polio vaccine.
To view the entire video collection, click the hamburger menu in the upper left corner of the video player above. This will expand a full list of videos. You may also open the video player in full screen mode for optimal display.
NVIC Press Releases
NVIC Statements & Commentaries