Starting Monday: Health Ministry to Vaccinate 150,000 Children in the South Against Polio

Health Ministry:'Danger level is simply zero.'

Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even

Some 150,000 children in the south will be vaccinated against polio starting Monday, the Health Ministry announced Sunday. The vaccination, administered with two drops, will be given to children up to age nine and a half residing in 66 communities between the Kiryat Gat area to Mitzpeh Ramon.

The vaccination will contain live but weakened polio viruses. Strains of the polio virus were found in sewage systems all over Israel in recent months.

The weakened live virus vaccination has a slight possibility, about one out of a million, of causing an active case of polio in family members of children who have been vaccinated. The children themselves are not at risk in such a case, as the vast majority of them have already been vaccinated with the shot of dead viruses.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the director general of the Health Ministry, said “given the high level of vaccination among the population, the danger of the new vaccination is simply zero. The protection is for the family, all children and the entire population, and we are all required to do so.” The ministry said this vaccination is used all over the world to eradicate the disease.

It is possible the vaccination program will be expanded north of Kiryat Gat, based on the Health Ministry's assessment of whether remnants of the polio virus are found in the center of the country. At the beginning of June the first strains of polio virus were found in the municipal sewage systems of Lod, Ramle, Modi'in and towns in the Sharon region. The Health Ministry has made it clear that if such findings repeat themselves, the vaccination program will be expanded, and may even be made nationwide.

The vaccination is intended to "prevent cases of infection within the family," and will be given with two drops on the tongue to children as young as four months. The new round of vaccinations will be given at the Well Baby Clinics (Tipat Halav), which will be open Sunday through Thursday from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M., and also on Friday morning.

The new inoculations would come on top of the regular regime of polio shots given to all children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 months, and then again in second grade. All those shots contain the dead polio virus.

Vaccinations expected to take a month

The Health Ministry plans to finish vaccinating within a month, before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah in early September.

It is possible that the vaccinations will also be given in schools once they reopen at the end of August for children in first through third grades.

Children from families in which there are members with weakened immune systems will not receive the vaccination, out of fear that the weakened live viruses could cause them to contract polio. Included in this list are children, or family members, who suffer from such diseases as leukemia and lymphoma; or are receiving treatment that depresses the immune system, such as chemotherapy or radiation treatments, or a high dosage of steroids. In addition, children with allergies to the vaccine or to certain other medicines, who are HIV positive or have genetic disorders of the immune system, will likewise not be given the vaccine.

For now, children will be given only one dose, though the Health Ministry says it is possible that a second dose will be given in the future. In preparation for the campaign, the ministry a few weeks ago ordered 500,000 doses from the giant international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Some 200,000 doses from that order have already arrived. The Health Ministry has already decided to order an additional 500,000 doses in case it is decided to expand the vaccination program.

The Health Ministry has so far identified seven Israelis who definitely carry the virus, and 10 suspected carriers. However, none of them have come down with active polio. Israel hasn’t had an active polio case since 1988, when 15 people came down with the disease, mostly in Hadera and Or Akiva. All suffered some degree of paralysis.

The current polio outbreak began in late May. The virus was first detected in the sewers of Rahat in the Negev. It later spread to the sewage systems of several other southern towns, including Be’er Sheva and Ashdod.

The Health Ministry thinks the disease arrived from Egypt. The ministry believes the fact that no active polio cases have yet occurred, despite the spread of the disease, is because such a high percentage of the population has been vaccinated against polio – an estimated 94 to 95 percent.

An Israeli child gets vaccinated against polio.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Health workers preparing the vaccines in Be'er Sheva Sunday. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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