August 24, 2022

In The News: Childhood Polio Vaccination Rate Is Dangerously Low in Some New York Communities, Increasing the Risk of an Outbreak

CNBC reports on the alarming polio vulnerabilities in some New York counties. This is despite a mandatory polio vaccine requirement in the state for all children attending day care and K-12 schools, whether public, private, or religious affiliation. Exemptions for the mandate are only available for children with a condition that would prevent them from receiving the vaccine, no religious or personal belief exemptions are available.

CDC data published in October of last year showed nearly 93% of U.S. children two and under were vaccinated against polio. In New York, however, only 79% of that cohort are vaccinated. That includes a New York suburban county where an adult became only the second person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with polio since 1979. The vaccination rate for two years and under in that county dropped from 67% in 2020 to 60% this year and is as low as 37% in some areas.

Wastewater for that county and other in the New York area has tested positive for the virus, an indicator that it has likely been circulating in the community for months. The New York wastewater samples are genetically linked to positive sewage samples in Israel and the United Kingdom. The strain is linked to a weakened form of the live virus used in the oral polio vaccine used abroad.

The oral vaccine is used in some countries because it’s effective, cheap, and easy to administer. An expert in the story says one of the reasons the oral polio vaccine is not used here is the risk of transmission, especially to people who are immunocompromised or may not vaccinated.

Every case of polio is considered a public health emergency by the CDC. The New York county with the adult polio virus case has launched a vaccination program to cover those who are unvaccinated. Uptake has not been as strong as needed.

Adam Ranter, a PIDS board member, supplies insights to the story, saying, “We got to this point in the U.S. with a tremendous amount of effort. It is sad to see us backsliding with this. Getting vaccinated — that is the solution… This is a wake-up call that we have to fix this problem with our vaccination levels, because I’ve never seen a child on an iron lung and I don’t want to.”

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