Long before Covid-19 disrupted daily life and put millions of people at risk, polio outbreaks in the 1940s and early 1950s caused thousands of cases of paralysis, disability and death. Cases fell steadily with the invention of polio vaccines in the 1950s, and polio was officially gone from America by the 1990s. Today, polio is gone from virtually every country.
But the polio story is not over yet. In July 2022, a single case occurred in an unvaccinated person in New York. Because polio is highly contagious, a single case could potentially cause an outbreak, particularly in unvaccinated individuals.
Although we don’t know exactly how long the protection provided by the polio vaccine lasts, there is evidence that it provides protection for decades. With the polio threat looming in the United States, you may be wondering if you ever got the vaccine. The US does not have a national immunization database, so there is no single source that can be verified.
How can you find out if you have been vaccinated against polio?
1. Think about when and where you were born
If you grew up in the United States in the 1970s or later, chances are you got the polio vaccine. Polio vaccines have been routine childhood vaccinations in the United States since the vaccine was approved in the mid-1950s. If you were vaccinated as a child, chances are polio was one of them. If you grew up elsewhere and emigrated to the United States, you would have had to get the polio vaccine to move here.
2. Walk in memories
Do you or your parents still have a baby book or other memorabilia from your early childhood? You may be able to find records confirming which vaccinations you have received. If your parents are still alive, ask them if you received routine vaccinations as a child. Your memory may be enough to strongly suggest that you are protected.
3. Review your pediatric medical records
If your pediatric practice is still operating, you can ask them for a copy of your medical records. Depending on how old you are, they may have to dig up your paper files — but they may still have them.
4. Check your state’s archives
Some states now have online registries to track immunizations in one central location. They probably don’t go back far enough to help someone in their 30s or older, but historical records may exist in state health departments.
5. Check with the schools you have attended
If your preschool or elementary school is still in existence, it may have a record of its vaccination requirements. Most schools would have required a polio vaccination. If you can confirm that your school required the polio shot, it’s a safe bet you were vaccinated or you shouldn’t have attended.
Although you can’t go back that far, your high school or college may have required a record of your childhood immunizations. If documentation of polio vaccination is required, this may be enough to presume you have been vaccinated.
What to do if you haven’t been vaccinated against polio?
If you find that you have not received the polio shot, or if you are at high risk of exposure because of your job or the countries you visit, the CDC recommends that you get vaccinated now. Talk to your doctor about your risks and create a protection plan.
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