Nearly 30,000 Children Immunized in Anti-polio Campaign

Health Ministry’s Operation Two Drops to expand northward, amid pockets of parental resistance.

Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even
Dan Even

Some 27,000 children have already received the weakened-virus polio vaccine being administered under what the Health Ministry is calling Operation Two Drops. The intensive immunization program began in southern Israel last week after traces of polio virus were detected in sewage systems and in stool samples.

The ministry plans to expand the vaccination campaign to central and northern Israel next week, on the advice of experts and international health organizations, since the virus has been present for more than a month in sewage systems as far north as Ramle and Lod.

Prof. Eli Somekh, chairman of the Israel Pediatric Association, defended the decision, saying, “Israel is a small country, and people from the north and south get together all the time, so a scenario in which the virus is identified in northern sewer systems is far from imaginary. As long as there are enough people who can excrete the virus, it will continue to spread.”

The two-drop dose of attenuated, or weakened virus being administered to children aged four months to nine years is meant to prevent them from spreading the virus to others. Children who previously received the inactive, or dead virus in accordance with the ministry’s vaccination protocol are already protected against polio. No actual polio cases have been reported.

In the past several days people who oppose the vaccinations have been increasingly active on Israeli social media website. As of Sunday a Facebook group called “Mothers say no to the weakened polio vaccine” had 2,013 members. Among the arguments made by group members is that the two-drop vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, does not have FDA approval.

But according to Somekh, “The vaccine was never registered in the United States because there’s no polio there and no need. Nearly 2.5 billion doses of this vaccine have been administered, and it is approved by the World Health Organization.”

Although most of the medical community supports the ministry’s campaign, Dr. Effie Halperin, a former head of the infectious diseases department of Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim Hospital, noted that in addition to dealing with polio, the ministry must address the lack of faith many people have in its policies.

“There’s a lack of confidence in the vaccination policy, as was manifest during the campaign to vaccinate everyone against swine flu,” said Halperin. “When the ministry insists that the vaccine carries ‘zero risk’ it sounds suspicious, because I don’t know of any vaccine that has zero risk. There are still questions that need to be asked.”

An Israeli child receives a polio vaccine in Be'er Sheva on August 5, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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