UK starts urgent rollout of polio vaccine to London children under 10

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The UK is urgently introducing polio vaccinations for all children under the age of 10 living in London, as resurgences of the virus in the UK, US and Israel fueled fears of a larger outbreak.

The vaccination campaign aims to provide a “high level of protection against paralysis” and limit the further spread of the virus, UK health officials said on Wednesday.

“All children aged 1 to 9 in London now need a dose of polio vaccine – be it an extra booster shot or just to catch up on their routine vaccinations,” Dr. Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, said.

“It will ensure a high level of protection against paralysis. This can also help stop the further spread of the virus,” she added.

Parents and carers in affected areas will be contacted by their doctor to schedule an appointment for their child to receive an inactivated polio vaccine, with up to a million children expected to be offered the vaccine.

A wake up call

David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the introduction should serve as a “wake-up call” for those who are unvaccinated.

“This should be a wake-up call for all of us – vaccine-derived polio virus is circulating in many countries around the world – including parts of the UK and US,” he said.

“Although not all children and adults infected with vaccine-derived poliovirus become paralyzed, those who have not been fully vaccinated are at risk of becoming paralyzed — and they are also the individuals who continue the transmission.” and facilitating outbreaks in the UK,” he added.

It comes after an unvaccinated New York City man was left paralyzed last month after contracting the virus.

The city’s first known case in a decade has officials warning that this may just be “the tip of the iceberg” as hundreds more infections may go undetected.

Authorities are investigating rising virus traces

Polio is a rare but highly contagious virus that can occasionally cause serious illness, including paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated.

No cases of polio have been recorded in the UK since they were eradicated in 2003 after a widespread vaccination campaign, and health officials say the risk remains low for the majority of people who are fully vaccinated.

However, British authorities declared a national incident in June after traces of the virus were detected in sewage samples in several London boroughs.

Routine sewage monitoring in the UK usually detects traces of the virus once or twice a year, usually from people vaccinated abroad with the live oral polio vaccine, as opposed to the dead version used in the UK

But since February 2022, 116 samples of type 2 poliovirus have been detected in samples from eight London boroughs in the north and east of the capital.

The UKHSA said genetic analysis of the samples suggests the spread has now “beyond a tight network of a few individuals” and could be spreading within the community. While most of the samples found are the safe vaccine form of polio, “some” are mutated enough to be dangerous, she added.

Health officials are now stepping up wastewater surveillance nationally, investigating the link between UK samples and cases recently detected in the US and Jerusalem, Israel.

“Further research is needed to fully understand how they are linked, but it shows that this virus has the potential to cause disease, particularly in poorly vaccinated communities,” said Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly, Associate Professor of Infectious Disease Statistics and Polio Eradication Expert, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. UK starts urgent rollout of polio vaccine to London children under 10

Joshua Buckhalter

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