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Overview of the Polio Vaccine: Purpose, dosage, and side-effects

Dr. Rashmi ByakodiJun 19, 2023

The development of vaccines to prevent paralytic polio was one of the great achievements of 20th-century medicine. Polio Vaccines have been in existence since the 1950s, and the goal of worldwide eradication has been a priority for health organisations ever since. Despite significant progress in some regions, polio remains endemic. In this article, let's explore a few facts about the Polio Vaccine.

Polio Vaccine



What is Polio Disease?

Poliomyelitis is a serious illness caused by enteroviruses of the P1, P2, and P3 types. It can spread from person to person through airborne droplets from infected people or contact with an infected person's oral secretions. After an incubation period of one to three weeks, the poliovirus spreads through the lymph nodes and enters the bloodstream within 48 hours to invade the central nervous system.

It may damage motor neurons (nerve cells) that stimulate skeletal muscles and lead to paralysis. The motor neurons cannot be revived, and the damaged muscles fail to function due to a weakening of the nervous system. This condition is called Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP). Usually, the leg muscles are affected more often than the arms. Polio can affect at any age, but predominantly, it affects children under the age of three. 

Some of the symptoms of Poliomyelitis are listed below.

  • Deformity in the limbs such as the ankle, feet, hips, and arms

  • Loss of reflexes

  • Loose and floppy limbs

  • A sudden paralytic attack that can be temporary or permanent

  • Severe muscle pain and muscle spasm

  • Joint and muscle weakness

  • Muscle atrophy

  • Trouble breathing

  • Sleep-related breathing issues

  • Impaired memory and concentration

Poliomyelitis has been completely eradicated from most countries across the world, but it still exists in some developing nations. Until it is completely eliminated worldwide, the risk of spreading polio to other countries still exists. For this very reason, there is a strong recommendation for all children to be vaccinated against polio with one of the available vaccines.

What is a Polio Vaccine?

A Polio Vaccine is given to protect your child’s immune system against the poliovirus. It is given as an injection or in the form of drops and is available in both inactivated (killed) and attenuated (live, weakened) forms. The inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) is made from dead poliovirus and uses chemicals to detoxify the virus. IPV causes a person's immune system to produce antibodies that will fight the poliovirus if it attempts to invade a person's body. Although IPV can be given at any age, it is usually given at two months of age.

The Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), which is administered orally, consists of live attenuated strains of all three serotypes of the poliovirus. OPV creates antibodies in the blood to all three types of viruses and protects the child against polio paralysis. OPV also produces an immune response in the intestinal line or mucous membrane. The antibodies created by the OPV vaccine inhibit the multiplication of the deadly virus.

History of Polio Vaccine

Polio has crippled and killed humans for thousands of years. Here's a brief history. 

  • The first written reference to polio is an Egyptian tomb painting from more than 3,000 years ago. It shows a man with a withered leg leaning on a staff.

  • These epidemics were reported annually in the United States, reaching their peak in 1952 with more than 21,000 cases. 

  • In 1955, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Polio during his administration and launched the March of Dimes campaign to develop a vaccine. 

  • In 1985, Rotary International launched its Polio Plus initiative to raise money for vaccinations against polio. 

  • By 1988, the World Health Assembly voted to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Also, in 1988, wild poliovirus was endemic in 125 countries; today, it is endemic in only three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. 

Thanks to the efforts of 200 countries and 20 million volunteers who have donated money and time toward immunisation campaigns supported by US$ 3 billion worth of grants from a variety of sources around the world, more than 2 billion children have been immunised against polio since 1988.

Purpose of Polio Vaccine

All three types of wild poliovirus WPV1, WPV2, and WPV3 are equally harmful to a person. Hence it is significant for people to get immunised with the Polio Vaccine right from a young age to avert this disease. The purpose of the Polio Vaccine is to safeguard children from the deadly poliovirus.

Types of Polio Vaccine

Mainly two types of polio vaccines are there that protect against polio.

1. Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV)

The inactivated Polio Vaccine is made from the killed or inactivated poliovirus because it cannot multiply. It protects against all types of polioviruses, including WPV1, WPV2, and WPV3. Since IPV contains an inactivated virus, it cannot infect others either. However, it does not stop the transmission of the virus. It is given as a series of injection shots.

2. Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV)

It is made from a virus that has been attenuated or weakened so that it does not make you ill. It develops antibodies inside the intestines known as mucosal immunity, which can multiply and give you better protection than a shot. There are different types of OPV that may contain one or a combination of two or all three types of attenuated vaccines. 

The oral Polio Vaccine is no longer licensed or available in the United States. It is still used in many parts of the world, including some countries in India, Africa, Asia, and South America. Children receive doses of OPV by drops of a liquid into their mouths.

Doses of Polio Vaccine

This section provides crucial information regarding the doses of the Polio Vaccine. 

Infants and Children

Infants and children are given polio vaccination as a routine childhood immunisation. They receive four doses in total. 

  • 1st dose at two months

  • 2nd dose at four months

  • 3rd dose between six to eighteen months

  • 4th  or booster dose between four to six years

To ensure that children are adequately protected against polio, they should complete the required number of doses of the vaccine.


Non-vaccinated adults should get vaccinated with three doses of IPV.

  • 1st dose any time as per convenience

  •  2nd dose after 1 to 2 months of the first dose

  • 3rd dose after 6 to 122 months of the second dose

Non-vaccinated adults are at high risk of polio in the following conditions. 

  • Planning to visit countries where polio still exists

  • Working in a lab handling specimens that might be infected with polioviruses

  • Come in contact with the patients who have been exposed to poliovirus

Possible side-effects of the Polio Vaccine

Although the vaccine is completely safe, people often encounter mild symptoms such as mild fever, soreness, and redness near the injection site.

Some rare side effects may include the following.

  • Itching

  • Rapid pulse

  • Swelling of the face

  • Hives

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Paleness

  • Troubled breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Fainting

You should seek medical emergency if you face any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Who should not take the Polio Vaccine?

You should not take the Polio Vaccine if you have the following medical conditions.

  • You are suffering from mild or severe fever or any kind of illness

  • You have had an allergy to Polio Vaccines before

  • You are allergic to neomycin, streptomycin, polymyxin B, and 2-phenoxyethanol

Also, you must consult your doctor before taking the Polio Vaccine in the following situations. 

  • You have a weak immunity

  • You had a bone marrow transplant or are receiving cancer treatments

  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of common queries and their answers pertaining to polio.


How does polio spread?

Usually, polio may spread through the faecal-oral route, i.e., from an infected person's stool to a healthy person's mouth through contaminated hands.

How is polio diagnosed?

If a person gets suspected of being infected, then a sample of the stool or throat is tested for the poliomyelitis virus.

Does my child need to be vaccinated with additional doses of the Polio Vaccine after receiving a combination of OPV and IPV?

No, if the combination of OPV and IPV is administered at a proper interval, it is considered a complete poliovirus vaccination.

Why is it still required to be vaccinated with Polio Vaccine when the disease has been eliminated?

Though polio has been eliminated from most countries worldwide, it still exists in parts of Asian and African countries and can easily get imported.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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