Last month, Vice News reporter Paul Blest tweeted, “Thousands of people just texted their moms ‘was I vaccinated for polio?” The tweet was in response to news that earlier this month, public health workers detected poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York, a revelation that was preceded by a confirmed case of polio in July.
“Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV vaccine as soon as possible,” said Mary Bassett, New York State’s Health Commissioner. A full series of polio vaccination is 99 percent effective against paralytic polio.
How to find out if you’ve been vaccinated against polio
If you were vaccinated against the virus, you likely don’t remember as the four-dose series is typically completed by age six. And because the United States has mainly been polio-free for decades, you likely haven’t had much occasion to worry about your vaccination status. But now, you may want to know. And if you have been vaccinated, you may now want to know if you now need a polio booster as well.
If you attended school or daycare in the United States between the 1960s and now, you’ve most likely received the polio vaccine. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring any child attending school or daycare to be vaccinated against the virus. Some states allow for religious or philosophical exceptions, so your polio vaccination isn’t guaranteed, but it is highly likely. CDC data shows in the 2020-2021 school year, 93 percent of U.S. kindergartners had received four doses of the vaccine; that’s a slight decrease from the 2019-2020 school year, in which 95 percent of kindergartners were vaccinated against the virus.
If you’re still unsure, the CDC suggests asking your parents, looking through baby books and other childhood documents, and checking with the schools you attended or employers for whom you worked. You can also petition the state’s health department for records. Each state has slightly different requirements for obtaining those records: In some cases, it’s as simple as checking the state health department’s online database; in other cases, you may need to print and mail a form requesting the records. NBC News put together a list of each state’s requirements.
If you were vaccinated before your state started keeping an immunization registry, you might not be able to get your records through the health department. The dates registries began are dates are different for each state. Fortunately, state records aren’t your last option; a doctor can perform an antibody test to see if you’re immune to the virus.
If you haven’t been vaccinated or are incompletely vaccinated
If you haven’t been vaccinated against the virus, the CDC recommends getting a three-dose series:
- The first dose at any time
- The second dose one to two months later
- The third dose six to 12 months after the second
If you’re an adult who has only gotten one or two of the doses, the CDC recommends getting the remaining doses.
Who needs a poliovirus vaccination booster?
While the polio vaccine is thought to offer lifetime protection against contracting the virus, the CDC is recommending that adults who are at increased risk of contact with the poliovirus get a one-time booster.
Adults are considered high risk if they meet the following criteria:
- You are traveling to a country where the risk of getting polio is greater. If you’re not sure, ask your healthcare provider if you need any vaccinations before traveling to the country.
- You are working in a laboratory or healthcare setting and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses.
- You are a healthcare worker treating patients who could have polio or have close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus.
While a resurgence of polio is understandably unnerving, the good news is we have very safe, effective vaccines to combat it. Just make sure you’ve gotten the complete series and — if eligible — the one-time booster.
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