No wild polio has been reported in Canada for over 20 years. But the disease is still common in some parts of the world. It would only take one case of polio from another country to bring the disease back if we were not protected by vaccine. If the effort to eliminate the disease from the world is successful, some day we won’t need polio vaccine. Until then, we need to keep getting our children vaccinated.
Polio is a disease caused by a virus. It enters a child’s (or adult’s) body through the mouth. Sometimes it does not cause serious illness. But sometimes it causes paralysis (inability to move an arm or leg). It can kill people who get it, usually by paralyzing the muscles that help them breathe. Polio used to be very common in North America and the western world. It paralyzed and killed thousands of people a year before we had a vaccine for it.


There are two kinds of polio vaccine:

  • Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which is the shot recommended in the United States today.
  • A live, oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is drops that are swallowed.

Until recently OPV was recommended for most children. OPV helped us rid the country of polio, and it is still used in many parts of the world. Both vaccines give immunity to polio, but OPV is better at keeping the disease from spreading to other people. However, for a few people (about one in 2.4 million), OPV actually causes polio. Since the risk of getting is now extremely low, experts believe that using oral polio vaccine is no longer worth the slight risk, except in limited circumstances, which your doctor can describe. If you or your child will be getting OPV, ask for a copy of the OPV supplemental Vaccine Information Statement.

The polio shot (IPV) does not cause polio. The shot is given in the leg or arm, depending on age. Polio vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.


Most people should get polio vaccine when they are children. Children get 4 doses of IPV, at these ages:

  • A dose at 2 months
  • A dose at 6-18 months
  • A dose at 4 months
  • A booster dose at 4-6 years


Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But three groups of adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination:

  • People traveling to areas of the world where polio is common
  • Laboratory workers who might handle polio virus
  • Health care workers treating patients who could have polio

Adults in these three groups who have never been vaccinated against polio should get 3 doses of IPV:

The first dose at any time

The second dose 1 to 2 months later

The third dose 6 to 12 months after the second


These people should not get IPV:

  • Any person who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotics neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B
  • Any person who has a severe allergic reaction to a polio shot


Any person who is moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting polio vaccine. People with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated. Ask your health care provider for more information.


Some people who get IPV get a sore spot where the shot was given. The vaccine used today has never been known to cause any serious problems, and most people don’t have any problems at all with it. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, could cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. The risk of a polio shot causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health

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