Ministry due to decide on oral polio vaccine for kids in South

Health ministry to announce possible campaign over attentuated- virus vaccine in drop form to children to wipe out the wild polio virus.

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August 1, 2013 21:24
2 minute read.
A child receives polio vaccination drops in Managua April 15, 2013.

polio vaccine illustrative 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas)

The Health Ministry will apparently announce on Sunday if and when it will begin a campaign to give attentuated- virus vaccine in drop form to children in the South to wipe out the wild polio virus that has been present in sewage since April.

A press conference has been scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

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The deputy director of the Health Ministry’s public health branch, Dr. Udi Kaliner, conceded on Wednesday that it would be a “major challenge” to persuade hundreds of thousands of parents in the South to bring their children for an additional dose of oral polio vaccine in August after the vast majority had already received the killed-virus injectable vaccine.

Some six weeks after officials announced the possibility of vaccinating children with oral polio vaccine, he said the ministry had “not yet decided” whether to actually do so.

“It won’t be easy,” Kaliner added, referring to an oral vaccination campaign.

The ministry’s associate director- general, Dr. Boaz Lev, appearing Wednesday night on Channel 2, confirmed that the decision had yet to be taken but “would be made soon.”

Lev denied a report by the channel’s health reporter that the ministry had already decided to vaccinate all Israeli children.

The reporter, Yoav Even, also said that the World Health Organization had issued a vaccination advisory for travelers heading to Israel, but no such statement was available on the WHO website and Lev did not confirm this. Lev did say, however, that Israel was safe for tourists and that few countries had such high coverage by the polio vaccine.

“No one has taken sick with polio, but we want to get rid of the virus completely,” he said.

This can be done if the oral vaccine is given, he explained, because there is a very small chance that someone who is not protected could contract the virus through contact with stools via the gastroenterological system.

Since April, when the first signs of wild polio virus were found in sewage in Beduin communities in the Negev, not a single case of paralytic polio has been reported. But about 23 healthy carriers of the virus have been identified among 1,000 residents of the South who were tested, and Lev said it is feared that they in turn could infect those who are unprotected, resulting in actual cases of polio.

Kaliner said that although over 98 percent of all Israeli children have already been vaccinated against polio in the form of shots, an improved oral vaccine would help protect family members and the very small part of the population that was never vaccinated.

“Our aim is to protect not only the unvaccinated, including newborns who have not yet been vaccinated, but also older members of the family who don’t have adequate protection,” he added.

Kaliner explained that the delay in reaching a decision was due to the time it takes to collect data on the wild virus in sewage, consult with visiting experts from the World Health Organization, and order and receive the vaccine.

The Health Ministry’s director- general, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, met with local officials in the South on Wednesday to explain the situation and answer their questions. The ministry said the officials expressed their willingness to cooperate if and when a voluntary vaccination campaign was launched.

After Gamzu collects and assesses all data, he will recommend to Health Minister Yael German whether and whom to vaccinate in the coming days.


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