New York Declares State Of Emergency Over Polio

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Polio vaccine

New York governor Kathy Hochul has declared a state of emergency in order to boost polio vaccination rates across the state.

According to health officials, sewage samples in New York City and four adjacent counties tested positive for a poliovirus.

The emergency order was issued last Friday and empowers emergency medical workers, midwives and pharmacists to join the network of providers who can roll out polio vaccinations.

BBC reports: Polio was largely eradicated from the US by vaccinations that began in 1955.

By 1979, the US was declared polio-free.

But according to New York officials, vaccination rates are too low in parts of the state. Friday’s emergency declaration is aimed at boosting flagging immunisation rates.

There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented by the vaccine. Mostly affecting children, the virus typically causes muscle weakness and paralysis, and in the most serious cases permanent disability and death.

New York’s state health department said it aims to boost vaccination rates from the current state-wide average of about 79% to above 90%.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said in a statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real.”

She added that “for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected”.

An inactivated polio vaccine is used in both the US and the UK as part of the routine childhood programme. In the US, about 93% of toddlers have received at least three doses of the polio jab, according to vaccination data from the CDC.

Officials began monitoring wastewater in the state for poliovirus after an unvaccinated man in Rockland County, just north of New York City, contracted the virus in July – the first recorded case since 2013 – and suffered paralysis.

The case was later genetically linked to paralytic polio found in a wastewater sample collected from nearby Nassau County in August.

Wastewater samples in Orange County, Sullivan County and the five boroughs of New York City have also tested positive for paralytic polio.

Will New Yorkers be offered the same vaccine that was designed to treat type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus? That is the same type of polio that was also recently identified in the UK’s first outbreak in more than four decades.

In June UK health officials in Britain warned parents  to ensure their children had been vaccinated against polio after multiple closely related versions of the virus that cause the disease were found in sewage water.

They UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) believed the virus was caused by a strain of polio found in the oral polio vaccine.

Niamh Harris
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