Polio Disease and Vaccine Quick Facts
- Poliomyelitis, or polio, is an infection caused by a virus that multiplies in the throat and gastrointestinal tract.1 There are three types of polio virus: type 1, 2 and 3. 2 Polio can be transmitted through direct person-to-person contact, or contact with infected bodily fluids, such as mucous, phlegm, and feces.3
- In about 95 percent of cases, polio infection is subclinical and does not cause symptoms. In 4-5 percent 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 percent 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) – a syndrome that causes weakness and pain in muscles and joints.4 5 6
- 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. OPV has also caused a new strain of polio known as vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) to emerge. VDPV is transmissible to others and can cause symptoms which are indistinguishable from wild-type poliovirus. 7 8 9
- The use of OPV was discontinued in the U.S. as of 2000 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 many parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.10
- Wild-type polio was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 1979 and eradicated in the western hemisphere in 1994.11 12 Today, 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.13
- 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. Inactivated polio vaccines contain poliovirus type 1, 2 and 3; however, the OPV currently in use is a bivalent vaccine containing only type1 and type 3 poliovirus.14 15
- There are six inactivated, injectable polio vaccines licensed and marketed in the U.S. by pharmaceutical companies. Five of the polio containing vaccines are combination vaccines that include additional vaccines to prevent other viral or bacterial infections.16 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.17
- Commonly reported IPV reactions include fever, irritability and crying, local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at injection site), drowsiness, vomiting and loss of appetite.18 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.19
- 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. OPV has also caused a new strain of polio known as vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) to emerge. VDPV is transmissible to others and can cause symptoms which are indistinguishable from wild-type poliovirus. Vaccine- strain polio continues to occur in countries where children receive OPV, especially in areas where poor sanitation and hygiene facilitate the spread the virus.20 21 22
- As of February 1, 2020, there have 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 have been 489 claims for injuries and deaths following IPV containing vaccines, including 73 deaths and 416 serious injuries. Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of November 30, 2019 there have been 24,797 adverse events reported following OPV with 1,033 deaths (nearly 90% in children under age six). There have been 72,130 reports of adverse events associated with IPV containing vaccines with 1,573 deaths (more than 93% in children under age six).
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
NIAID Workshop Development of Guillain Barre Syndrome
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.
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients
Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.
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.
« Return to Vaccines & Diseases Table of Contents
1 Medline Plus Polio Jan. 6, 2020
2 CDC Poliomyelitis – Poliovirus Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
3 Medline Plus Polio Jan. 6, 2020
4 Mehndiratta MM, Mehndiratta P, Pande R Poliomyelitis Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication Neurohospitalist. 2014 Oct; 4(4): 223–229
5 Johnson S Polio Healthline Oct 15. 2016
6 Medline Plus Polio and Post-Polio Syndrome Jan.9, 2020
7 Mehndiratta MM, Mehndiratta P, Pande R Poliomyelitis Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication Neurohospitalist. 2014 Oct; 4(4): 223–229
8 Lopalco PL Wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus circulation, and implications for polio eradication. Epidemiol Infect. 2017 Feb;145(3):413-419
9 CDC Vaccine-derived Poliovirus - Questions and Answers May 4, 2018
10 CDC Polio Vaccination May 4, 2018
11 CDC Poliomyelitis – Epidemiology Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
12 CDC International Notes Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication -- the Americas, 1994 MMWR Oct. 7, 1994; 43(39);720-722
13 WHO Poliomyelitis Feb. 9, 2017
14 CDC Poliomyelitis – Poliovirus Vaccines Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
15 WHO Replacing trivalent OPV with bivalent OPV No date (accessed Jan. 19, 2020)
16 FDA Vaccines Licensed for Use in the United States Jan. 16, 2020
17 CDC Updated Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Regarding Routine Poliovirus Vaccination MMWR August 7, 2009; 58(30);829-830
18 FDA IPOL - Poliovirus Vaccine Inactivated (Monkey Kidney Cell) Package Insert Aug. 6, 2015
19 FDA Vaccines Licensed for Use in the United States Jan. 16, 2020
20 Lopalco PL Wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus circulation, and implications for polio eradication. Epidemiol Infect. 2017 Feb;145(3):413-419
21 CDC Vaccine-derived Poliovirus - Questions and Answers May 4, 2018
22 Beaubien J Mutant Strains Of Polio Vaccine Now Cause More Paralysis Than Wild Polio National Public Radio Jun. 28, 2017