Protests voiced against oral polio vaccination

Health Ministry claims live attenuated vaccine is perfectly safe, but detractors say it’s untested and potentially dangerous

Workers at the Beersheba Health Ministry office with the polio medication on August 4, 2013, (photo credit: Flash90)
Workers at the Beersheba Health Ministry office with the polio medication on August 4, 2013, (photo credit: Flash90)

While a massive campaign to inoculate the populace in the south against polio began on Monday morning, some Israelis objected to the vaccine being used, and have been refusing to inoculate their children.

Some 150,000 children up to the age of 9 who live in cities and towns between Kiryat Gat and Mitzpeh Rimon are to get the oral vaccination after the virus was discovered in sewers in the area and people were found to be carrying it.

Next week, the ministry will decide whether to give the vaccines to all children under 9 years of age nationwide.

Shiri Gurman, who started a Facebook page entitled “Mothers say ‘no’ to the live attenuated polio vaccine,” told Channel 10 news that she would be “happy to find that I am mistaken, but I want the Ministry of Health to present high-level clinical research” confirming that the vaccine, which Gurman said had not been used in any Western country since 2009, was safe.

“We cannot settle for a position paper by a physician who might be receiving a salary from a pharmaceutical company as a consultant,” said Gurman.

The Facebook page, which has over 700 members, cites two health experts who warned against using the live attenuated vaccine, also known as oral polio vaccine (OPV).

According to the Israel Hayom daily, Professor Allon Moses, the director of Clinical Microbiology and Infection Diseases at Hadassah Medical Center, and Dr. Michal Stein, the representative of the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association, both addressed the Knesset Health Committee a month and a half ago.

Moses said that he would inoculate anybody who lives in an area where polio has been found, “but the oral vaccination will affect people with low immunity levels, for example, after cancer treatments,” which Moses described as “problematic.”

Stein, who is a pediatrician at Wolfson Medical Center, said that “if we need to vaccinate on a large scale, we must try to use an inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV).”

Health Ministry Director General Dr. Roni Gamzo disputed the claims against OPV, quoting a spokesperson for the World Health Organization as saying that the OPV being used in Israel had been tested and used in many countries. Speaking on Channel 10 news, Gamzo further emphasized that the vaccine was being given exclusively to children who have been previously vaccinated against polio, and any instances of complications caused by the vaccine occurred only with children who had not previously administered polio shots.

Gurman was not convinced. She stated on her Facebook page that the previous version of OPV was discontinued and declared “dangerous” by Israel and other Western countries in 2005. The new version of the drug was developed in 2009, but according to Gurman had yet to be tested in the West.

Gurman also referred to British physician and immunization specialist Dr. Richard Halvorsen, who claimed in his book “The Truth About Vaccines” that since 1970 OPV had caused more cases of paralysis in the United Kingdom than did the polio virus against which it was meant to inoculate.

Gamzo acknowledged that Israel would be the first Western country to use the new OPV, but he rejected the idea that children were being used as guinea pigs for the vaccine.

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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