Thousands of Children Vaccinated as Israel Launches Its Polio Campaign

Health Ministry still debates whether to expand the vaccination campaign to children throughout the country.

Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even

Thousands of children were brought to well-baby (Tipat Halav) clinics in the south of the country on Monday to receive polio vaccinations. The surge followed the Health Ministry’s call on parents to innoculate their children to prevent the spread of the virus.

The ministry wants to inoculate some 150,000 children up to the age of 9-and-a-half in 66 localities in the south. The virus was first detected in May in the sewage system in the Negev town of Rahat and subsequently elsewhere in the south and in communities in the Sharon area. No actual cases of polio have been reported.

By Monday evening, well-baby clinics had vaccinated at least 4,000 children. The two-drop vaccine contains a weakened form of the virus. It is being administered in addition to the routine polio vaccines given all children, which contains killed viruses. The routine protocol calls for vaccines at two, four, six and 12 months, and a booster in second grade.

Clinics are being kept open until 8 P.M. and nursing staffs have been augmented. The campaign is scheduled to last 60 days.

Health Minister Yael German toured clinics in the south yesterday to see how the vaccination campaign was progressing. The clinics in Rahat, where the virus was first detected, were relatively quiet, but there was considerably more activity at the clinics she subsequently visited in Lehavim and Be’er Sheva.

“At the clinic on Rehov Yerushalayim in Be’er Sheva, the minister found a line of parents who had come to get their children vaccinated and she was impressed by the orderliness at the site,” according to a statement from German’s office.

“I tip my hat to them,” German was quoted as saying. “It’s not self-understood that nurses, during the summer, undertake to work from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. There was no hysteria at the clinics. The public is responding to the call.”

Thousands of parents called the Health Ministry’s hotline on Monday to ask questions and find out where the vaccine could be obtained. A special ministry team is following the progress of the campaign. At this stage, children are being vaccinated in cities and towns from Kiryat Gat in the north to Mitzpeh Ramon in the south. The campaign does not yet include the southern coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon or towns closer to Gaza, like Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim.

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that within a week the ministry would decide whether to expand the campaign to include all the country’s children. A month ago, the ministry ordered half a million doses of the weakened virus vaccine from pharmaceutical giant GSK, most of which have arrived and were distributed to the southern clinics. Last week, the ministry ordered another half a million doses, which have yet to arrive.

The ministry denied rumors that a recommendation had been received to expand the vaccination campaign, saying that the advisory committee headed by Prof. Eli Somech, chairman of the Israel Pediatric Association, is still discussing the matter. The virus was also detected in the sewage systems of Lod, Ramle, Modi’in and in towns in the Sharon region last month.

The ministry also noted that it was monitoring the spread of the virus via stool sample examinations. To date, the stool sample tests have determined that 23 people in the south are carrying the polio virus, but none of them have taken ill because all had been previously vaccinated.

There have been no polio cases in Israel since 1988, when 15 people came down with the disease, 11 of them in the Hadera-Or Akiva area.

A girl receiving a vaccine in Rahat yesterday. ReutersCredit: REUTERS

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