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Citing ‘outbreak,’ Health Ministry to launch polio vaccination drive, official says

Head of public health says ‘Two Drops’ campaign is aimed at kids born in 2005-2013 who may have only received one inoculation dose

An illustrative photo of a patient receiving an injection. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
An illustrative photo of a patient receiving an injection. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

A top health official said Sunday that the Health Ministry will later this week launch a polio vaccination drive to counter what she called “a real outbreak” of the disease.

The move comes after earlier this month health officials confirmed the first case of the potentially debilitating disease in the country in over 30 years.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s director of public health, told the Kan public broadcaster that the campaign will be aimed at completing the two-dose vaccine regimen for children aged three months to 17 years who have only had one dose.

She explained that during the years 2005-2013, polio vaccinations were cut back as the disease was vanquished in the country and many babies who have since gone through the health system did not get both doses.

The campaign, called “Two Drops,” will begin later this week in Jerusalem, where the case of the disease was identified, and then be expanded to the rest of the country.

“We are definitely seeing an outbreak of polio in Israel,” Alroy-Preis said.

In addition to the capital, the virus has been detected in sewage in Modiin Illit and Tiberias, she noted.

“It reaches unvaccinated pockets and is spreading,” Alroy-Preis said.

One Jerusalem child who was recently diagnosed with polio has weakness and paralysis on one side, she reported.

“That is just the tip of the iceberg, under which there are many other infected children,” she assessed.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem about new coronavirus restrictions, December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry confirmed that a mutated form of the virus — which can cause illness in the unvaccinated — was discovered in a 4-year-old boy in Jerusalem who had not been vaccinated against the disease.

The case was believed to be the first polio diagnosis in Israel since 1989, after Israel largely wiped out the disease through an aggressive inoculation campaign.

Alroy-Preis has already encouraged families to get their children vaccinated against polio and said there were likely dozens if not hundreds of asymptomatic cases of the disease.

Disease experts have warned of the real prospect of a resurgence of polio cases — in manageable numbers but enough to leave some children with long-term damage.

Traces of the virus have been found in sewage samples in Israel from time to time, but have not resulted in any clinical cases for several decades.

Like much of the world, Israel administers polio vaccines to children as part of its standard vaccine regimen.

Polio spreads mostly from person to person or through contaminated water. It attacks the nervous system and can sometimes paralyze people within hours. The disease mostly affects children under 5 and has been largely wiped out in wealthy countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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