Polio, or poliomyelitis, is an infectious viral disease that can strike at any age and affects a person's nervous system. In the late 1940s to the early 1950s, polio crippled an average of more than 35,000 people in the United States each year; it was one of the most feared diseases of the twentieth century. Thanks to the polio vaccine, dedicated health care professionals, and parents who vaccinate their children on schedule, polio has been eliminated in this country for more than 30 years.
It is crucial to maintain the success rate of U.S. vaccination efforts since the disease still exists in some parts of the world. People most at risk are those who never had polio vaccine, those who never received all the recommended vaccine doses, and those traveling to areas that could put them at risk for getting polio.
The Childhood Polio Vaccination Schedule
For best protection, children should get four doses of polio vaccine. This vaccine is given as a shot in the arm or leg and is extremely safe. Ideally, your child should receive a dose at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 through 18 months, then a booster dose at age 4 through 6 years.
IPV: A Safe Vaccine
Thanks to the dedicated work of health care professionals like Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in the early 1950s, and Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the early 1960s, the United States has been polio-free for over 30 years. OPV is no longer used in the United States but is used in vaccination programs of some countries around the world. Since 2000, the only polio vaccine recommended and used in the United States is IPV. Because it is an inactivated or killed vaccine, it cannot cause polio.
Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) may sometimes be given in the same shot with other vaccines (in other words, in a combination vaccine), so discuss this option with your child's doctor. Getting the recommended doses of the polio vaccine is an extremely important part of keeping the United States polio-free.
Paying for Vaccine
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines, but you may want to check with your insurance provider before visiting your pediatrician, health care professional, or local health department for a vaccination. If you don't have insurance, or if it doesn't cover vaccines, the Vaccines for Children Program may be able to help. This program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. The program provides vaccines at no cost to health care providers who serve eligible children.
Traveling to Another Country?
Polio has been eliminated from most of the world, but the disease still exists in a few countries in Asia and Africa. Even if you were previously vaccinated, you may need a onetime booster shot before you travel anywhere that could put you at risk for getting polio. A booster is an additional dose of vaccine to ensure the original vaccine series remains effective.
U.S. State Department International Travel page, or the site for timely travel health information.
Make sure you get your travel vaccination(s) well before your departure date to ensure complete protection. See your health care professional for more information.
Polio Once Caused Widespread Panic
From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, polio outbreaks in the United States increased in frequency and size. Parents were frightened to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus seemed to peak. Travel and commerce between affected cities were sometimes restricted. Public health officials imposed quarantines (keeping infected persons from coming into contact with non-infected persons) on homes and towns where polio cases were diagnosed.