Polio Vaccine


inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine (IPV)


tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b, and hepatitis B combined vaccine (DTaP-IPV-Hib-hep B, called the 6-in-1)

Infanrix Hexa

tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b combined vaccine (DTaP-IPV-Hib, called the 5-in-1)


tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and polio combined vaccine (DTaP-IPV, called the 4-in-1)


How It Works

The polio vaccine is given to protect people from getting all three strains of the polio virus. The vaccine is given as a shot (injection).

Why It Is Used

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a virus that damages nerves that control muscles, resulting in muscle weakness. In a severe case, a person can lose the ability to move both arms and legs (paralysis) and to breathe without help.

In the early 1900s, thousands of people were paralyzed or died from polio. Today, polio immunization programs have eliminated the disease in Canada, the United States, Europe, the Mediterranean, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Outbreaks occur in other parts of the world but are rare.

For babies and children

A total of four shots are given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 4 to 6 years of age. The polio vaccine may be combined with other vaccines so children only have to receive one shot (known as the 4-in-1, 5-in-1, or 6-in-1 shots).

For adults

A booster dose of the polio vaccination is not needed for adults (even those who were not immunized as children) unless they:footnote 1

  • Travel to areas where there is polio.
  • Live in an area where someone with polio has visited or moved to.
  • Are health care workers who have contact with people with polio.
  • Handle the polio virus in a lab.

How Well It Works

The series given to children provides lifelong protection.

Side Effects

Most people who get the vaccine do not have any problems. But there may be soreness or tenderness where the shot was given. There have been no reports of any serious reactions with the vaccine used today. footnote 2

Even though serious allergic reactions are rare with these medicines, call your doctor or local health unit right away if you or your child has trouble breathing, a high fever, or anything unusual after having the shot.

A child who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of polio vaccine should not get another dose of this vaccine. Tell your doctor or nurse if your child has had a severe reaction to any vaccine or has severe allergies.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Only the inactivated polio vaccine shot (injection) is used in Canada today. An oral vaccine was once used but is no longer because it had rare but serious risk of causing polio.



  1. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2006). Poliomyelitis vaccine. In Canadian Immunization Guide, 7th ed., pp. 277–283. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. Also available online: http://publications.gc.ca.
  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2000). Polio vaccine: What you need to know. Vaccine Information Statement. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Current as of: December 9, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics
Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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