Health Ministry halts vaccination of school-aged kids
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Health Ministry halts vaccination of school-aged kids

Decision due in part to upcoming high holidays; 330,000 Israeli children have already been inoculated against the polio virus

A medical clown makes faces as an Israeli boy receives polio vaccination, August 19, 2013. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A medical clown makes faces as an Israeli boy receives polio vaccination, August 19, 2013. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Health Ministry decided on Friday to stop the vaccination of children in elementary schools against the polio virus, which has spread widely in Israel since it was first detected in February.

Ministry officials said the decision was based in part on the proximity of the upcoming High Holidays and their corresponding vacations. Israeli children will be out of school beginning on September 4, on-and-off for several weeks.

Non-compulsory vaccinations will continue at Tipat Halav child health clinics.

Some 20,000 children were vaccinated on Friday against the polio virus, bringing the total number of those vaccinated to 330,000.

The virus has been spreading steadily, with traces of polio detected on Wednesday at a sewage treatment facility in the southern city of Ofakim. On Tuesday, the virus was discovered in Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel.

On Thursday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition to stop the vaccinations. The petition claimed that, among other things, the proposed solution could be a lot more dangerous than the problem itself.

Yaakov Gurman, director of the Izun Hozer organization, which filed the petition, told The Times of Israel that the risks inherent in the few samples of the wild strain polio virus discovered in several places in Israel could be multiplied many times over once a million kids are given the oral polio vaccine (OPV) — essentially a weakened form of polio that, like most inoculations, introduces the virus and lets the body build up a resistance by developing the antibodies needed to battle a full-on invasion of polio.

New York pediatrician and author Dr. Stuart Ditchek disagreed. “The benefits of using OPV by far outweigh the risks in this scenario, thus the recommendation,” he said.

“The recommendation being implemented in Israel is smart and guided by advisement of the [US] Centers for Disease Control. The group in the lawsuit simply disregards the CDC as an honest adviser,” and thereby risks the public’s health, he said. “There is no documentation scientifically of their concerns.”

David Shamah contributed to this report.

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