Polio Virus

Polio is a serious infection that's now very rare because of the vaccination programme. It's only found in a few countries and the chance of getting it in the UK is extremely low. Polio can lead to paralysis and in some cases, even death. There is no cure for polio, vaccination is the only protection. Polio is part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule. If you have had the full course of vaccines, you will have life-long protection against Polio.

We know that some children missed out on vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s not too late to get your children vaccinated. More information on catch up vaccinations can be found here.

Your GP can quickly arrange for your child to catch up with vaccinations. If your child had first vaccinations abroad it is important that they still have routine vaccinations here, and your GP can help arrange that. If you’re not registered with a GP, you can register online (anyone can register and you don’t need ID or proof of address).

Getting the Polio Vaccine

When can my child get their polio vaccine?

To be fully protected against polio you must have five doses of a polio-containing vaccine. All five doses are part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule and provided for free.

Children are given the polio vaccine when they are:

  • 8, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine
  • 3 years and 4 months old as part of the 4-in-1 (DTaP/IPV) pre-school booster
  • 14 years old as part of the 3-in-1 (Td/IPV) teenage booster

Does my child also need to get a polio booster?

You can search ‘NHS child vaccines’ online or visit the NHS website to see which vaccinations are given when. If you think your child might be behind on their MMR, polio or any other vaccination you can check your child’s health record (red book) or contact your GP to see if they are up to date.

How do I get a catch-up dose for my child?

Your GP can quickly arrange for you to catch up with vaccinations. Parents of children aged 4 to 11, whose vaccination record says they are behind on polio and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations will also be contacted by an organisation called Vaccination UK who have been employed by the NHS to arrange catch up doses at a local clinic or at school.

The free polio vaccine provides safe, effective and long-term protection against the virus.

Frequently asked questions

What is polio?
Polio is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system – it can cause permanent paralysis of muscles. Before the polio vaccine was introduced, there were as many as 8,000 cases of polio in the UK in epidemic years. Because of the success of the polio vaccination programme, there have been no cases of natural polio infection in the UK for over 30 years.

How does polio spread?
Polio passes between people when an infected person coughs or sneezes close to them. It can also be passed on when an infected person does not properly wash their hands after going to the toilet. In this scenario, the virus can be passed by food or drink.

What are the symptoms of polio?
Most people with polio won't have any symptoms and will fight off the infection without even realising they were infected. A small number of people will experience a flu-like illness 3 to 21 days after they're infected.

Symptoms can include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • abdominal (tummy) pain
  • aching muscles
  • feeling and being sick

These symptoms may also be indicative of other common ‘cold like’ viruses that circulate in the autumn and winter and will usually pass within about a week without any medical intervention. For roughly 1 in 100 people who are infected it can lead to a very serious illness including paralysis.

How do I protect myself against polio?
Vaccination is the best protection about the polio virus as it provides life-long immunity. It is also always good practice to make sure you wash your hands properly after using the toilet and before eating.

I’m not sure if my child has been vaccinated, how do I check?
Your child’s Red Book will include records of all your child’s vaccinations. If you don’t have your Red Book, your GP will be able to tell you if your child has received all the vaccines they are able to receive.

It is important that vaccines are given on time for the best protection, but if you or your child missed a vaccine, contact your GP to catch up. The full schedule of vaccinations recommended and provided by the NHS can be viewed here.

Can I get a Polio vaccine as an adult?
If you have not had your Polio vaccine as a child, or are missing vaccines, you can get vaccinated at any age. The vaccine is usually available for free on the NHS. In addition, it may be recommended to get a polio booster before travelling to certain countries.

I’ve had polio. Do I still need to get vaccinated?
It is recommended that you get vaccinated even if you’ve had polio before as the vaccine protects against different types of polio.

Are the Polio vaccines given by the NHS ‘live’ vaccines?
No. The polio vaccine given by the NHS is not a live vaccine.The UK vaccines uses inactivated virus. This means you are not infected by polio when you get vaccinated, and are not at risk of getting the polio disease.

Where can I find more information about polio?
NHS WebsiteNHS travel adviceMore information on travel vaccinations

Find out more information about polio

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Last updated: 15/02/2024

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