The massive ongoing initiative to vaccinate the population in southern Israel against polio will be expanded to include all children nationwide, the Health Ministry announced Friday.
According to the ministry, as of August 18, all Israeli children born after January 2004 will be required to get vaccinated in order to prevent infections, Army Radio reported.
An official statement from the ministry issued on Friday noted that the decision to expand the initiative was made after viral strands of polio were discovered in samples taken from sewage facilities in the central Israeli cities of Lod and Ramle.
During the past week, 20,000 children from some 66 towns and communities stretching from Kiryat Gat to Mitzpeh Rimon received an oral vaccination against the virus.
Throughout the coming week, the Health Ministry plans to accelerate the rate of vaccinations in the South and expects to vaccinate 50% of its target population in the region.
The polio scare has been described by some commentators as one of the most serious public health crises in Israel in decades, though experts believe catastrophe can be averted if the vaccination program rolls out as planned.
Twenty eight virus carriers have been identified so far, twenty six of them children under the age of ten. It is estimated that close to a thousand people are carrying the deadly virus in their intestines.
Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) on Monday toured several Tipat Halav clinics (for mothers and young children) in the South where staff administered the vaccine, which contains a live, weakened strain of the polio virus.
German urged local residents to bring their children in “for the sake of their own health and for the health of the environment.”
Director General of the Health Ministry Roni Gamzo echoed German’s call and in an interview with Army Radio stressed the importance of the vaccination project.
“It is spreading and it is continuing to be spread,” Gamzo said of the virus. “We must stop it.”
Gamzo reassured parents that the vaccinations were safe and attempted to calm fears raised because the treatment is based on a living polio virus rather than the usual dead sample.
“There are no significant side effects,” he said. “The danger is zero. Vaccinate your children so that the child will not carry and spread the diseases to your family and friends.”
A strain of polio is believed to have arrived in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat in February 2013, where it was first found in sewage in late May. Health officials believe it was brought over the border from Egypt, where polio was discovered in sewage last December.