Easy-to-read medicine information about polio vaccine – what it is, when is it given and possible side effects.
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What is polio vaccine?
Polio vaccine offers protection against polio infection. Polio is a virus found in the nose and throat. It is spread by coughing, sneezing and sharing drink bottles. It infects the bowel and can attack the nervous system. In severe cases it may cause paralysis and even death.
Polio has disappeared from New Zealand and most parts of the world as a result of immunisation. However, there is still a risk that polio could enter New Zealand from overseas.
Read more about polio.
Polio vaccine works by making your immune system produce special cells called antibodies that will attack and kill the polio virus when it enters your body. This means that if you get infected, these protective antibodies are already in your bloodstream to quickly fight off the germs.
Being vaccinated causes your body to produce antibodies against the polio virus. This means your body can respond faster and more effectively to prevent an infection. It does this because by first coming across a non-infectious version of the virus in the vaccine, it learns to recognise it. When it comes across it again, your body can react much faster and in a more effective way.
When is polio vaccine given?
In New Zealand there are three polio-containing vaccines: Infanrix-hexa®, Infanrix-IPV® and IPOL®.
As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule, polio vaccine is offered free to:
- babies at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months as Infanrix-hexa®
- children at 4 years as Infanrix-IPV®.
Read more about childhood immunisation.
Individuals who have not been immunised against polio, or have had incomplete immunisation (missed some doses), or have a weakened immune system and are at risk of getting polio, can be given a course of three doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPOL®), 4-8 weeks apart.
Immunisation against polio is not recommended in the first or second trimester of pregnancy unless you are travelling to a polio-affected area. If a previously unvaccinated pregnant woman is travelling to a country where polio is occurring, 2 doses should be administered 4 weeks apart prior to departure. If departure cannot be delayed to allow a 4-week gap, give 2 doses at the maximum possible interval, though protection cannot be guaranteed. If the available interval is less than 2 weeks, a single dose is recommended, with further doses given on arrival where possible.
If you are planning to travel to countries with a risk of polio infection, ensure that you are fully immunised against polio. If more than 10 years have passed since the last dose, a booster dose is recommended.
How are polio vaccines given?
Infanrix-hexa® and Infanrix-IPV® are given intramuscularly (injected into the muscle) in the upper arm or thigh.
IPOL® is given by subcutaneous injection (under the skin).
Possible side effects
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
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Where can I get vaccinated?
The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.
You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.
Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.
The following links provide further information on diphtheria-containing vaccines:
Medsafe Consumer Information