Polio (poliomyelitis) vaccine
What is it for?
This vaccine protects you against infection by the poliovirus. There are three different types of poliovirus that can infect your stomach and gut and cause polio (poliomyelitis). The viruses spread when people come into contact with faeces or throat secretions such as mucus or saliva that contain the virus.
Polio can cause meningitis (brain infection) and paralysis. About 1 in 20 people (5%) who need hospital treatment for polio will die. About half the people who survive the infection will be permanently paralysed.
Who should be vaccinated?
The polio vaccine is given to children aged 6 weeks to 2 months, 4 months and 6 months in a combination vaccine that also protects five other diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and hepatitis B.
The vaccinations are given free to all children as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule.
The polio vaccine is recommended:
- for adults who aren’t sure it they have ever had the polio vaccine in childhood; it is recommended to have a course of three injections given 4 weeks apart
- as a booster, if you have been vaccinated previously, but you are travelling to an area where polio is present
- for laboratory workers who may come into contact with the polio virus.
Adults who need to have the vaccine can be vaccinated at their own cost.
Note that booster doses are not recommended for adults unless they are at special risk of getting the infection (e.g. travelling to countries where polio is present).
The polio vaccine is usually only given to pregnant women who are travelling to countries where polio is present and who will be at high risk of the infection. Your doctor can provide advice about this.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the polio vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of polio-containing vaccines (that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:
- fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher)
- redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site
- a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
- muscle aches.
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.14 Poliomyelitis. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-14