Do you need a polio vaccine booster? Probably not — but New Yorkers who aren't fully vaccinated should 'rush' to get shots, one expert says

·4 min read
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New York City health officials detected polio in the wastewater, suggesting the disease might be spreading in the city.Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
  • New Yorkers vaccinated for polio shouldn't yet worry about polio in the wastewater, experts said.

  • Most children and immigrants are required to get the vaccine, which can give immunity for decades.

  • Unvaccinated people should "rush" to get a jab from their physician, one expert told Insider.

New York City health officials found polio in the wastewater, a sign the disease that had been eliminated from the US since 1979 might be spreading locally.

Vaccinated New Yorkers have little to worry about, Dr. Jay Varma, the director of the Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Insider. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's "not known" how long immunity lasts from the vaccine, Varma says research suggests it can provide lifelong protection.

But anyone who isn't up-to-date on their vaccinations should "rush" to get shots, Varma said. "If you or anybody in your family is not up-to-date on your vaccines, you should be very worried," he added.

"The fact that we're seeing a return of polio in the year 2022 in New York is a very worrisome sign. It's an indication that our public-health infrastructure is not as strong as it needs to be to keep Americans safe and healthy."

Here's everything you need to know about the polio vaccine and whether you need a booster shot:

What is the polio vaccine, and are there any side effects?

Polio can cause symptoms from flu-like headaches to paralysis, and there is no cure or treatment. But the vaccine can prevent it.

The polio vaccine administered in the US uses the inactive strains of all three poliovirus types, according to the World Health Organization. A four-dose series of the inactivated polio vaccine triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that can ward off the three types of poliovirus.

The IPV — "an incredibly safe vaccine," according to Varma — is the only polio jab administered in the US since 2000. Two doses of IPV provide at least 90% protection, and three doses provide at least 99% protection, according to the CDC.

Another form of the vaccine, the oral polio vaccine, uses live but weakened poliovirus strains. Though cheap and effective, it can contaminate water through feces and infect unvaccinated people. It is typically distributed in developing countries.

Recipients may experience mild side effects including:

  • sore throat;

  • soreness at the injection site;

  • fainting in rare cases;

  • an allergic reaction in one per every million doses.

Side effects appear within minutes or hours of getting the shot, according to the CDC.

Who needs a polio vaccine?

Varma said anyone who hadn't received a polio vaccine yet should get one.

Federal law requires immigrants to get vaccinated against a slew of dangerous viruses, and state law dictates rules about vaccination for schoolchildren.

While jurisdictions can decide their own vaccine regimens, the CDC recommends babies get a three-dose polio series and receive a fourth shot while 4 to 6 years old.

(If you're not sure whether you received the polio vaccine, Insider's Hilary Brueck shared advice on how to find out.)

How to get a polio vaccine

Varma said adults who aren't up-to-date on the polio vaccine or who aren't sure about their vaccine status should contact their physician and ask about getting vaccinated.

New York City health officials said to call the health department or visit nyc.gov to find places administering the vaccine.

Varma said calling in advance for a polio jab is crucial as an adult because the vaccine is normally administered to children, meaning adult doctor's offices may not carry them.

Lab testing can reveal your polio immunity, but many labs stopped administering these tests because of the disease's elimination in the US, Varma said.

If you got a shot as a kid, you're probably protected for decades

Immunity from the four-dose series most likely lasts decades, according to Dr. Paul Offit, an attending physician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who is the hospital's director of the Vaccine Education Center.

Offit cited studies done by Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, that showed an inactived polio virus vaccine could induce an "anamnestic response," meaning the body will remember the invading virus and produce the right antibodies to ward it off.

The CDC says that the duration of immunity is unknown but that those vaccinated for polio are most likely protected for "years."

The agency says adults who completed a four-dose polio vaccination series as children but are "at a higher risk" for polio exposure — because of work or travel to certain places, for instance — can get a booster shot. There is no harm in getting an additional polio vaccine jab, said Varma, adding that he recently received a booster.

"It's hard to know exactly how many New Yorkers have polio and carry this virus and might be able to transmit it to other people," Varma said. "So if you are not up-to-date, I would rush to make sure you get vaccinated, particularly if you have a young child."

Read the original article on Insider