Ask a Nurse: Getting Vaccinated for Polio as an Adult

Ask a NurseThe ExCS site has teamed with a registered nurse and paramedic with a background in healthcare education and public health. Married to a former-CS, the Nurse would like to share their experience with the healthcare system, and answer any questions former-CS may have!  The Nurse will NOT get involved in diagnosing or giving medical advice, but if there are questions folks have related to going to a doctor, explaining medical terminology, how to advocate for yourself in healthcare, and so on, they might have a perspective that can help. 


tl;dr To get your first polio vaccine, you’ll want to contact your doctor or your local health department for more information. Links at the bottom of the post.

HOWEVER, the assumption is adults are all vaccinated (at least for polio), so adult healthcare providers don’t routinely administer the polio vaccine, and often don’t know what to do.


Recently there’s been a case of polio reported in Rockland County New York, just north of New York City, leading to questions on how to get vaccinated. Polio is a virus that can cause paralysis, most famously in US President Franklin Roosevelt. With the advent of a vaccine however, polio has nearly been eradicated (in 2021 there were 6 reported cases worldwide). To prevent a resurgence (like in measles), vaccination is key. Typically, the vaccination schedule is a 4-dose regiment beginning at age 2 months and culminating between age 4-6 years (for unvaccinated adults it’s a 3-dose regiment).

In the United States, the Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been used since 2000. It is given by shot in the leg or arm, depending on the patient’s age. What this essentially means is the polio virus is injected into the person, but the virus is dead, or inactivated. As a result, there’s no risk of actually contracting polio, but the person’s body develops immunity to protect from future exposure of a live polio virus. This video series from Khan Academy is very useful in explaining polio and the vaccine in further detail: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/nclex-rn/rn-infectious- diseases/rn-polio/a/what-is-polio

The risk of serious complications related to the vaccine are very low, however the complications from getting polio can be quite debilitating. As a colleague of mine once put it, “vaccines are arguably the greatest invention in human history.” They have prevented untold numbers of deaths and life-long injuries. In adults, polio can be fatal in 15-30% of patients who suffer paralytic effects. The vaccine protects against those effects.

If you grew up in a family that subscribed to a belief that medicine was unnecessary, you might not have been vaccinated. The question now is, how does one get vaccinated as an adult? The simple advice, at least in the US, is to call your doctor and get vaccinated by following the schedule on the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The schedule posted by the CDC for adults who have never been vaccinated states adults should receive 3 doses along the following timeline:

  • The first dose at any time
  • The second dose 1 to 2 months later
  • The third dose 6 to 12 months after the second

That said, finding somewhere to get vaccinated as an adult isn’t as straightforward as one might assume. I’ve spent the last few days calling public health departments around the United States, calling private doctors offices, urgent cares, you get the idea. I’ve also reached out to colleagues of mine, one of whom is a vaccine and infectious disease expert, to get help. Nobody has great answers for me. Getting the polio vaccine as an adult, at least in the United States, should not be this hard! The assumption is adults are all vaccinated. As a result, adult healthcare providers don’t routinely administer the polio vaccine, so don’t know what to do, and pediatricians don’t know what to tell adults…

I wanted to get this post up so you’d at least have somewhere to start, but I’m going to keep working on this question. If I get answers and can update this post, I absolutely will. In the meantime, the best advice I have is to call your local public health department and explain your situation. Below are a few links to credible resources you can share with healthcare providers.

List of US state health departments:

Information for Canadian residents:

World Health Organization information:

Information on polio and the polio vaccine through the CDC:

Updated to add – If you are unsure of your vaccination status

Your doctor should be able to order blood tests which should be able to detect if you’ve been vaccinated or if you’ve already had the disease.

You can also try to find immunization records: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/vaccination-records.html

I never received childhood vaccinations.

By ExCS group contributor Jodi B. This is part of a series of first hand stories about vaccinations and Christian Science.

I never received childhood vaccination. I was religiously exempted by an easily obtained form in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I was protected by herd immunity my whole life and mistakenly thought it was my parents’ prayer (and later, mine), keeping me safe from measles and polio and such “out there.”

At the age of 16, I was away at Cedars Camps in Lebanon, Missouri, and there was a measles outbreak there. The State of Missouri kicked in and said “all those campers need to either be quarantined or go home and be quarantined there at home.”

I wanted to take my stand about staying proud of never having been given a shot. I wanted to go home. My parents wouldn’t let me.

The Missouri Health people came in and gave those of us who stayed, shots for the Measles. Another counselor friend of mine told me “it’s just ‘water in, water out,’ and for some reason, that helped me with my prayers on my fear of getting a measles shot.

I was so afraid I then had the actual measles and I told one of my older campers. She was probably 15 at the time. I didn’t want her to sit by me at dinner lest she get the measles from me. She was so disappointed that I would dare think she wasn’t spiritual enough to resist getting the measles.

I felt sad that I had made her feel disappointed. She sat with me anyway, in an awkward dinner. She never got the measles. I didn’t, either.

5 years later, I was about to graduate from Principia College. It was 1994. A few weeks before graduation. Word came around campus that 3 seniors might have the measles. They had never had the measles shot. There was a measles epidemic on campus. Everyone who had been vaccinated could leave campus – come and go freely. Anyone who had not been vaccinated needed to either go home and be quarantined or be quarantined on campus.

A lot of us had been vaccinated at Cedars Camps. Maybe 30 of us on a campus of maybe 600 students. Principia wrote to Cedars and obtained our vaccination records, because none of us had our own records.

I felt so proud that I could come and go off campus. So I did it just because I could, though I rarely left campus at any other time. I think my friend who had traveled to Korea and had all of her vaccinations and I drove to the store to buy donuts. Just because we could and she had a truck.

The 3 seniors were quarantined in a beautiful, well kept old house on campus that had since been needlessly neglected and then condemned, never got the measles. I was so glad those 3 students didn’t get the measles. We all graduated on time.

After becoming a mom of two elementary school boys, I subsequently left Christian Science due to mounting issues increasing in severity that were most decidedly NOT being healed in Christian Science.

We got one of my kids tested. He was found to be on the autism spectrum.

One of my sisters-in-law is a medical nurse and had a newborn son. I was scared of vaccinating my elementary school boys. She assured me that her newborn was vaccinated and would be given all shots on schedule.

She also taught me that term “herd immunity.” I had been protected by herd immunity and never by prayer.

I got my sons and me vaccinated using an alternative vaccination schedule. My boys’ schedule was set up by their brand new pediatrician. Mine was set up by the Department of Health in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We have also gotten the flu shot every year too. We all used to get the flu every single year. We haven’t gotten it since starting to get the flu shot (except for this past year when the flu was particularly aggressive, but the shot kept people from dying even if they still got the flu after getting the shot).

I have gotten and continue to get professional help so I can be a better parent to my son on the spectrum. He is thriving now as a person unlike the traumas he was going through while on the spectrum, and attending Christian science Sunday school.

The vaccination had zero affect on either of my boys in regards to autism. And I am so grateful all 3 of us have our complete vaccinations now.

How to get Vaccinated

This post has been submitted by an ExCS group contributor. If you have questions about vaccinations, please ask your Doctor or other healthcare professional. For more posts about Healthcare see Healthcare Resources


As someone raised in Christian Science, you may not have received recommended vaccinations as a child. This can leave you vulnerable to preventable diseases, and can also make you a carrier who could transmit these diseases to people who are unable to get vaccinated. Many ex-Christian Scientists view getting vaccinated as an important step in their recovery.

In this blog, I use the terms immunization, vaccine, and shot interchangeably. I also provide resources for the United States because that’s what I’m familiar with, but similar resources for vaccinations standard in other countries are easily found online.

Immunizations are covered at 100% by health insurance because they are classified as preventative care. So, they will not cost you anything out of pocket if you have health insurance. There are several different types of vaccines that you will need to catch up on and get in the future. There is a standard set that all children in the US should receive, there are vaccinations that adults need, and there are also vaccinations that you should get every year, like the influenza (flu) vaccine. There are also specific vaccines either recommended or required if you are traveling to certain countries. When preparing to travel out of the country, you should check the CDC website to find out which vaccinations are recommended. In some cases such as for the yellow fever vaccine, you will not be able to re-enter the US without proof that you received a particular vaccine. Don’t worry, your doctor will tell you which ones you need.

I want to tell you about my experience with vaccinations to illustrate why it is important to get them now. I got the measles at CedarS Camps, a major summer camp for Christian Scientists, when I was a small child. There have been many measles outbreaks at Christian Science camps and Principia College. Every time, the CDC comes in and shuts it down, and the children’s parents make the choice of either having their child receive the measles vaccine or going home. Unfortunately, many faithful, well-meaning, but woefully and willfully ignorant Christian Science parents expose their children to complications including pneumonia, encephalitis of the brain, and death by skipping this one vaccination.

My family moved several times when I was growing up. Every time we moved and I had to enroll in a different school, my mother had to scramble to produce notarized documentation that exempted me from vaccinations for religious reasons, which was legal in the state I grew up in. Every time, either she had to find these documents after having just moved or get new ones notarized and this always caused a scramble and an awkward delay. This happened again when I was registering for college classes and the delay caused me to miss getting in to some of the classes I needed because of the time it took to get forms notarized and physically sent to the college. I also had to deal with this awkwardness when traveling internationally for a job. So, by getting vaccinated, you can avoid situations like these for times you need to produce an up-to-date shot record.

I got caught up on childhood vaccinations in my 20’s so that I could travel internationally, even though I was still sort of a Christian Scientist then. However, I stubbornly did not get the flu vaccine every year even after getting the recommended childhood vaccinations. One year, I traveled to my home state to visit extended family and got sick while visiting. It was miserable, and I remember being sick like that several times before. When I got home, I went to the doctor and they tested me and told me that I had the flu. During my trip, I had interacted with an infant and an elderly person while visiting my extended family, and felt horrible for exposing those vulnerable populations to an easily preventable, but potentially fatal, disease. I’d also exposed two planes full of people while traveling home. I felt incredibly stupid. Now, I am proud of myself every time I get my flu shot every year.

When you go to your primary care doctor, tell them that you were not immunized as a child and that you would like to get caught up on your shots. If you are comfortable doing so, you can let them know that your parents raised you without medical care. After some initial surprise, they are usually pretty understanding and relieved that you would like to get immunized now.

First, you need to find out which shots you need. You can choose to either go ahead and get all of them, or you can request an Immunity/Vaccine/Antibody Detection test. Because you were not immunized as a child, you may have gotten some diseases and already have immunity to them and therefore do not need a vaccination for those diseases. If so, you can avoid the soreness that occurs from getting an unneccesary shot and any potential side effects. You will also learn more about your childhood by finding out which diseases you had. For example, I got chicken pox and measles as an unvaccinated child raised in Christian Science. That meant that I did not need the chicken pox vaccine. I did still need the MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) vaccine in order to get immunity to mumps & rubella. I remember having the measles, but I don’t remember having the chicken pox. It’s also good to know for your health history, and having this data on record will contribute to statistics which inform public policy.

The doctor’s office will need to draw your blood for the Antibody Detection test or refer you to a lab for bloodwork. So, you will need to wait for the results before you can find out which vaccinations you need. At your follow up appointment, you will find this out and can now decide how to proceed. (You don’t have to get this test if the additional step will be inconvenient or if it’s not covered by your health insurance.)

Here is a common list of vaccinations:

Your doctor will tell you which ones you should get based on your age, health history, risk factors, etc. Some shots need to be gotten in a series of two or three within a certain period of time, like 30 days or < 6 months. If you need a series, it’s important that you come back to get the subsequent shots within the specified time period so that the immunization will be effective. There may be some vaccinations that came about more recently that your doctor might recommend for you, like the HPV vaccine, that may not be covered by your health insurance because they have not yet been added to the CDC’s list for your age group. So there is a chance that the cost for these additional vaccines might not be fully covered by your insurance, but you can call them to check beforehand. Even if there is an out-of-pocket cost, it is a good idea to get them if you can afford to do so.

Now that you know which shots you need, you can decide on the timeline for how to get your immunizations. You can get several at once or spread them out. I personally recommend that you plan to get one vaccination per month, but it may be more convenient for you to get most of them all at once and then only return for the series shots, or spread them out to get a few at a time with your series shots. For example, military members are often given 8+ vaccinations at once. Either way you choose, it should not make a difference on the cost (free).

The nurse administering the shot will ask you where you would like it. The most common place to get a shot is in the upper part of your non-dominant arm. They may also be able to give it to you on your hip. You might want to consider which side you sleep on and get the shot on the opposite side.

You may have a choice in vaccine delivery mechanisms. Anything that can be breathed in will be more pleasant than receiving it as a shot. There are also “live” vaccines, which may not be recommended if you have small children in your household, are pregnant, or live with someone who is pregnant. You might be advised to wear long sleeves to sleep in for some period of time while the vaccine is absorbed. Your doctor or nurse will go over all of this with you and send you home with a pamphlet containing all of the information you need.

The annual flu shot is available at pharmacies for convenience and you can use your health insurance and skip the doctor’s appointment if that works better for you. A nurse at the pharmacy will administer the shots.

Be aware that there are potential side effects from vaccinations. The FDA has concluded that the benefits outweigh the downsides. Read the information you receive thoroughly. I personally experienced a swollen lymph node from the MMR vaccine. This happens in 15% of children who receive it. If you are self-aware and informed about what could happen to you as a result of getting particular vaccines, you can recognize when you are experiencing a side effect and find ways to reduce the impact of these side effects. You can also call your doctor’s office for advice on how to handle side effects if you experience them. For my swollen lymph node, I read that it helps to sleep on the opposite side so that the lymph node gets less blood flow. After I did this, the swelling went down. Even though I had this unpleasant side effect for about two weeks, I am still glad that I got that shot. Most of the time, the area where you received the shot is simply sore for a few days to a week and there are no side effects. I’ve gotten probably fifteen shots total and only had this very minor side effect with one.

Now that you have been vaccinated, you can feel good about participating in a free public health benefit and display your new shot record proudly. You will get sick less often, and can no longer be a potential carrier endangering infants, elderly, or people otherwise unable to get vaccinated with easily preventable diseases. Now you can rest assured that you won’t get a debilitating disease that is easily preventable. You will also no longer need to feel awkward about a misinformed religious exemption imposed on you by well-meaning parents. Your shot record will come in handy when you apply to live in a college dorm or for certain jobs.

Chrystal’s Story: New Beliefs

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


New Beliefs

I have decided to completely start from scratch with my own spiritual belief system. It’s kind of fun, to see what I believe in. It reminds me of the end of the book series, “The Hunger Games.” The final book, “Mockingjay,” has Peeta asking “real or not real?” and his friends reply and tell him what is real or not real. He starts to realize the memories that are not real have a “sparkly quality to them.” I am asking myself lately: “real or not real?” And I know I love The Sky, and I love Nature. So at the moment, my beliefs are simply, “Mother Earth, Father Sky.” I am enjoying understanding the winter and summer solstices. My kids and I agreed we don’t need to celebrate Christmas anymore, and we will celebrate Yule instead. Look it up. It’s a beautiful holiday with rich and meaningful traditions.

My kids took some time to get out of the Christian Science mindset. My older son still struggled with it for a year after I left. Early in 2016, he told me something to which I replied, “that’s a Christian Science thought,” and he was pretty upset with me that I would dare try to change his thinking. I had to remember to quietly be Quaker, and not try to guide him, but let him come to his own conclusions, and support him in Clearness as he ponders and finds his own sense of truth. He has changed his thinking on that issue, and has found a more reasonable sense of things. In the summer of 2016, he went to Quaker camp for the first time and loved it so much! He now considers himself to be an Ex Christian Scientist and also a Quaker. I am glad he had the space, mentally, to sort through everything and make his own choices about what to believe.

When I wrote this blog, my younger son still believed in God. It brought him a sense of comfort, and I am fine with that. He also wrote a little prayer type song that includes the words: “flying spaghetti monster” and also “god.” We sing it at bedtime. As I edit this blog and get it ready for publishing, I don’t know what his belief is about whether a god exists or not, and I am okay with that. It’s up to him and what brings him comfort. 

I love being a mom to these two boys. If they get sick, I don’t yell at them or tell them “it’s your fault that you’re sick!” and I don’t force them to sit in their room with books and make them read and find their own healing. Sometimes we use a children’s over the counter medicine (or even cough drops, imagine that). I have also found that humidifiers solve a lot of problems in the winter months, and my sons and I go to doctors regularly now.

All three of us are now immunized too. That was a whole other thing I had to navigate to decide if it was dangerous or practical or what. I learned about “herd mentality,” and realized we had always been safe from diseases because the majority of the time, we were surrounded by immunized folks. Real science. Christian Science didn’t protect us. Medical science is real science, using the real scientific method.

By the way, I was caught in not one, but 2 measles outbreaks at Christian Science facilities growing up. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen if everyone was immunized. See Penn and Teller’s YouTube video (warning: salty language) on the topic of why people should immunize their kids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfdZTZQvuCo 

My son broke his arm

One day at school, my younger son tripped on a tree root and broke his arm. I was now a Quaker, and I had recently changed the “in case of emergency care card” for him, and removed all the Christian Scientists, and put on some of my Quaker Friends, and of course my husband. My son went to the hospital in an ambulance, and my husband met them there. (I was at work, and my husband took care of all of it.) I remember crying and crying, because I didn’t want my son to have a broken arm, but then I was so relieved that he had been taken directly to a hospital and was being given excellent care for his broken bones, and hadn’t been picked up by a Christian Scientist who would be “quietly praying with him” until I went to pick him up. My son received excellent care the whole time, and eventually had to have surgery on one of the bones that wasn’t healing at all.

I am so grateful to be out of Christian Science. I have finally found happiness and goodness and peace in my heart. I love my neighbors, and have found true friendships – not only with Quaker women, but with other women too, neighbors and moms at my sons’ schools. It’s wonderful what happens when a person removes judgement from their heart and stops thinking they are better than everyone else!

Leaving Christian Science has been a huge step towards getting rid of my depression and anxiety. Real therapy has helped me so much too! (Even therapy is verboten in Christian Science, the way I was taught. Talking about our problems just makes them more real, right?) I know now that it was Christian Science that brought on my deep depression and high anxiety. I am finally recovering my creative self and I am finally healing, thanks to real science and a good trauma therapist, and with the loving, patient and kind support of my Quaker Friends. I am also completely grateful to have found amazing, kind, compassionate, empathetic people on our Ex Christian Science Facebook group. We all shared so many of the the same experiences growing up, and validate each other, so we can heal – for real – from the problems inflicted on all of us (in varying degrees), by the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, and the way generations have started arbitrarily interpreted those teachings to inflict real harm and calling it “love.”

Nowadays, I go to doctors a lot, to get issues fixed that had no care for the 40+ years of my life. I am getting physical therapy on my shoulder, and the doctor told me recently, “most people don’t heal as quickly as you are, you’re doing exceptionally well!” I was very recently put on an anti depression / anti anxiety medicine and I hear myself laughing easily. I feel like myself again! It’s been a long time since I felt happy. (A friend of mine posted his version of a part of my story here – about my depression. https://emergegently.wordpress.com/2016/09/21/orange-juice-makes-me-happy/ )

I need to get it on my calendar to get my second mammogram soon, as I had my first one only last year after leaving my Mother Church membership. Also, I need to get to a neurologist and get checked for the concussions I had over the years that I never got checked out for, and I’m working through memory issues so many times per day. Untreated concussions have left what may probably be lasting damage on me. I talk with so many other Ex Christian Science folks, and I got off easy with the challenges I struggled with and still struggle with. I am so glad I got out before my kids grew up all the way, too, so they can be saved from so much of the junk I had to go through.

So many people have asked me to share my story. It’s not a quick story, and I am glad to have had this blog series as a platform. It has been incredibly cathartic to write about this experience and share with others so they can know what a dangerous belief system Christian Science is. My journey isn’t over. I expect I will mentally grow more, and post more things in the future.

I am so grateful to have left Christian Science.

To vaccinate was to allow a belief of possible harm to enter thought

By Marion, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

When I was a Christian Scientist, our older child contracted diphtheria, and this fact was published on the front page of the local big city newspaper. Many people asked why we had not immunized him. This was my answer, and it made sense to me at the time:

If we were to have vaccinated him, he would have been protected from diphtheria, but still in danger from many other things, like accidents or other illnesses. But if we had been successful as students of Christian Science, he would have been protected against every thing that could hurt him.

In my thinking at the time, since to vaccinate was to allow a belief of possible harm to enter thought, the protection against every ill would have been compromised. That is, vaccinate, and you endanger your child by compromising the protective thought. He then could be hit by a car, or be subject to any number of tragedies.