(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Following reports of two cases of polio in Ukraine, the Health Ministry on Thursday urged all unprotected travelers who are going to that country – both adults and children – to get vaccinated against the viral disease.
The announcement follows precautionary information from the World Health Organization about the cases.
The rate of polio vaccination in Ukraine is only about 50 percent, compared to more than 99 percent in Israel.
The ministry did not relate in its statement to the 34,000 Breslov Hassidim and enthusiasts who have just returned from five-day visits to Uman, the reputed burial place of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov and whether they are in danger.
It also did not say where people can get vaccinated or provide the ministry’s phone information number: Kol Habriut – *5400.
Prof. Shmuel Rishpon, a University of Haifa expert on vaccinations, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on behalf of the ministry. He says, “There is nothing you need to do if you have just returned from the Ukraine, as there is no prophylactic treatment after exposure to the virus. If you returned a week ago and have no symptoms, you have nothing to worry about.” The risk is minuscule, he stresses, because all those born or before the early 1950s have natural protection, and the vast majority of those born after that have been vaccinated as schoolchildren.
However, someone who returned from Ukraine and experiences signs of muscle weakness should go to a hospital emergency room for examination. In the vast majority of cases, polio symptoms should pass without harm on their own.
Vaccinations are provided (for a fee) at ministry district health offices and at private travel medicine centers, although these are not open on Shabbat or festivals, Rishpon says.
The focus of the Ukrainian cases was in the western and southern parts of the country – not in Uman, but near Moldova and Hungary, Rishpon notes.
Adults above age 18 should get a booster of injected-and-killed polio vaccine, or IPV. However, anyone who received a booster shot or the basic three-shot vaccination under the age of 18 is considered to be protected for life, the ministry notes.
Travelers going to the Ukraine who in the past received the “improved IPV,” regular IPV or the oral polio vaccine are considered as having had one just one vaccination against polio and should just get vaccinated before leaving to ensure full immunization. Those who have never been vaccinated at all should get two doses within six to eight weeks of each other and a booster shot six to 12 months after the second shot, the ministry says.
Children up to the age of 17 (inclusive) should get four IPV shots – three within six to eight weeks of each other and a booster shot six to 12 months after the third dose.
If someone who plans a trip to the Ukraine does not have time to get the three doses before departure, the ministry recommends getting at least one shot before the trip.
A person who has less than four weeks before their departure should get one shot; a person with four to eight weeks should get two shots.
If the scheduled departure is more than eight weeks away, the ministry advises the traveler to get all three shots.