Health Ministry updates guidelines on polio vaccines after first case in decades

Top health official recommends Jerusalem-area kids get first dose at 6 weeks, says there are at least dozens more asymptomatic cases but doesn’t predict wave of infections

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

A top health official on Monday announced the Health Ministry was updating its advice on when some children should be vaccinated against polio, after a case was discovered in Israel for the first time in over 30 years.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s director of public health, said parents in Jerusalem and the surrounding area should take their kids to get their first dose at the age of six weeks, and the second at 12 weeks.

“Our emphasis at the moment is ensuring that all kids, primarily in the Jerusalem district, be in the best situation in terms of vaccination,” she said, noting the ministry’s recommendation that children receive all four vaccine doses before their first birthday.

According to the Health Ministry, 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 encouraged families to get their children vaccinated against polio and said there were likely dozens if not hundreds of asymptomatic cases of the disease. Citing sewage samples, she said the disease was only in the Jerusalem area, but called for broader sewage testing to ensure it has not spread to other regions.

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.

An Israeli child receives an oral vaccine against polio in Beersheba on August 5, 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/FLASH90

“We don’t expect that there will be a wave of kids with symptoms, but we know the virus is going around,” Alroy-Preis said. “A vaccinated child is protected.”

She also noted the Jerusalem Health Bureau has opened an epidemiological investigation into the case and will reach out to anyone who came in recent contact with the infected child.

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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