Despite skepticism from some parents and formal opposition from a handful of activists, parents around the country took a total of 30,000 children for oral polio vaccination (OPV) on Sunday.
It was the first day of a three-month campaign to get all children born after January 1, 2004, to swallow two drops of attenuated virus vaccine.
This is in addition to some 60,000 of 100,000 children in the South who have already been vaccinated before the Health Ministry decided to vaccinate a total of one million children. Although 42 carriers of the wild polio virus – or about 4.4 percent of all those whose stools have been tested so far – have been identified as carriers, not a single person in the country has contracted the paralytic disease.
Children who have received the standard injected polio vaccine (IPV) in several doses since they were two months old are personally protected against the paralytic disease, but this alone does not prevent them from eliminating the wild polio virus through their gastrointestinal system to the environment, thereby potentially infecting others.
The ministry insisted that since it detected wild polio virus in sewage samples in the South last February, it was important to vaccinate children with the drops to prevent them from infecting children who have not been or could not be vaccinated or adults whose vaccine protection has worn off and suffer from a chronic disease that weakens the immune system.
The campaign has been launched with the enthusiastic support of the World Health Organization and of various Israeli societies of medical specialties.
This did not prevent a group of anti-vaccine activists that calls itself Izun Hozer from petitioning the High Court of Justice against the vaccination campaign, which is being carried out at 1,000 Tipat Halav (well-baby) centers and health-fund clinics throughout the country.
The ministry’s reaction to the legal action was that “Israel is a democratic state in which every citizen can turn to a court about any subject.
Doctors in the whole health system decided to wipe out polio here and protect public health.”
It will present its explanations to the court, “and we are convinced that it will be impressed by the importance and the need for the decision to vaccinate with OPV all children” younger than 10 years, the ministry spokeswoman continued.
Some of the well-baby clinics had long lines for the vaccination, while others were quiet. As educational institutions are still on vacation, older children will have to wait until school begins if their parents want them to be vaccinated during classes and not go to tipat halav centers.
The ministry reminded the public to bring their children’s vaccination booklets with them.
Jerusalem’s well-baby clinics, which are run by the municipality, were expanded to all tipat halav centers in the city, except for the Ir Ganim quarter, whose residents should go to Kiryat Hayovel for the drops, and the Ramot Bet and Ramot Gimmel quarters, whose residents should go to the Ramot Aleph quarter for it. The centers are to be open during regular hours and not longer than usual.
The ministry reiterated to skeptics that the OPV drops have a proven track record of safety and are meant for children who have already received IPV. It said that so far, 2.5 billion people around the world have safely received OPV.
Twenty-five years ago, all Israelis under the age of 40 were encouraged to get OPV when 16 residents, including adults, contracted the paralytic form of the disease. Residents then went dutifully to tipat halav centers, without all the fanfare and debate that is currently being heard.
The ministry urged the general public to wash their hands with soap and water after visiting the toilets, after diapering babies and before serving and eating food. Dirty disposable diapers should be disposed of in garbage cans and not left in bags outside them.