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Health Ministry touts 99% polio vaccination rate among babies

In light of successful vaccination campaign that began in March, ministry says it will no longer push the vaccine for children over the age of six

A child being vaccinated at a children's medical center in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, September 10, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A child being vaccinated at a children's medical center in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, September 10, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In light of a successful vaccination campaign for polio over the past few months, the Health Ministry said on Thursday that it would stop administering the vaccine to children over the age of six.

The statement said that the decision was made after surveys showed that vaccination rates among children between the ages of six weeks and 18 months — considered a high-risk group for the virus — stood at 99%.

Vaccination rates among children in that age group stood at 81 percent in March, when Israel’s first clinical polio case in 34 years was detected in an unvaccinated 4-year-old girl. She was hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, then released to a specialist hospital after the virus harmed her muscles.

Among all ages nationwide, vaccination rates for polio currently stand at 85%, the Health Ministry said, referring to the uptick in shots provided since March as “impressive.”

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of public health services at the ministry, said that Israel is witnessing the “disappearance of polio,” which she said was “definitely good news.”

The ministry said that the last positive test for polio was in Jerusalem and was taken on May 30. No tests have come out positive since, Alroy-Preis said, stressing that it was the result of the ministry’s campaign. While the virus has still been detected in the sewage system in Jerusalem, the rates of such discoveries have also dropped, the ministry said.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, announces Israel’s successful vaccination campaign against the polio virus, July 7, 2022. (GPO/Health Ministry)

The most important achievement of the campaign, Alroy-Preis said, was that “no new clinical case was detected since the campaign began,” adding that “we’ve seen a 100% vaccination rate among the Haredi community in Jerusalem.”

The ministry added that it was fully coordinated with the World Health Organization throughout the campaign and was “commended” for its “quick organization, decision making and communication with the public.”

After the first detected case in March, several other children tested positive for the virus but remained asymptomatic.

Despite the low number of cases, the WHO said at the time that they constituted an outbreak, as developed countries are expected to be totally polio-free and any diagnosed cases raise concerns of spread.

This led to the Health Ministry’s intense vaccination campaign, which is now coming to an end.

“The vaccination campaign has gone very well, and it has increased protection against the disease in a way that was much needed,” Dr. Michal Shtein, director of the pediatric infectious diseases unit at Sheba Medical Center, told The Times of Israel earlier this week.

“Today, there is still a vulnerability to polio in Israel, but the risk of a specific person getting polio is low,” said Prof. Hagai Levine, Hebrew University epidemiologist and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. “There is now better protection of toddlers, who can have a significant role in spreading polio.”

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