Polio in New York: Governor Declares Urgency to Boost Immunization Efforts

New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a polio state disaster on Friday as evidence of local transmission in the state mounts. Only one case of polio has been reported, but for every reported case, hundreds more people could be infected, health officials said.

Nassau County is the most recent county to have polio in its sewage confirmed, according to an announcement from the New York Department of Health. Polio has also been detected in sewage from Rockland County, Orange County, Sullivan County and New York City. Findings in New York City sewage last month have heightened concerns about polio as they suggest the virus is circulating in the nation’s largest city. The first one polio case in the United States for about a decade was reported in July in an unvaccinated person in Rockland County.

Hochul’s statement aims to increase polio vaccination in New York by allowing more people to administer polio vaccines, including midwives, pharmacists, emergency medical workers and other workers of health. The declaration will also require better information sharing on polio vaccination data among health officials, according to the press release.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” said state health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in the statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with your vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real.”

“I urge New Yorkers to accept no risk,” Bassett said.

Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that disabled more than 35,000 people every year in the 1940s before there was a vaccine. It was declared eliminated from the United States in 1979. Most people with polio have only mild or no symptoms, but others may become paralyzed or die.

Most people today were vaccinated against poliomyelitis as children, and it is a requirement to attend public schools in New York. The polio vaccine available in the United States – which is recommended as a series of four doses usually given between ages 2 months and 6 years – can be more than 99% effective in preventing paralysis and is credited with eliminating the poliomyelitis of the US. Although it’s not known how long the vaccine gives you immunity, you are likely protected for many years after vaccination, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some adults, including those traveling to certain countries, and some healthcare or lab workers may have received another vaccine after childhood.

Rockland County and Orange County, where polio was previously detected, have vaccination rates just over 60% and about 59%, respectively, compared to the state average by about 79%, health officials said. Polio vaccination rates in New York are just over 86% among children under 5 years old.

“The risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple: Get your polio shot,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in August. “With polio circulating in our communities, there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus.”

The New York Department of Health recommends that all children and babies start the series of polio vaccinations immediately if they haven’t already. The health department also recommends that adults receive three doses of the polio vaccine if they are unvaccinated or do not know if they have received the vaccine. Adults should also receive the last one or two doses if they started the polio vaccine series but did not complete it (regardless of when they started).

Some people who have already been vaccinated against polio but are at increased risk of coming into contact with it may also receive a booster shot, according to the latest announcement. This includes people who will be in contact or who may have been in close contact with a person suspected of having polio (or that person’s close contact), health care providers in New York who may be in contact with the virus or handling samples, as well as people exposed to wastewater in the course of their work.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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