Health organisations and Jewish community leaders are urging anyone celebrating Pesach to have missed polio vaccinations before travelling or visiting relatives ahead of the festivities next month.
Polio is an infection that can cause paralysis and death. There is no cure. Serious illness from polio can be prevented by being fully vaccinated.
Tragically, cases of paralytic polio have recently been reported in an unvaccinated adult in New York and an unvaccinated child in Israel. Anyone who has not been fully vaccinated or is only partially vaccinated are at the highest risk of becoming seriously unwell with polio. Communities with low levels of vaccine uptake as a whole are particularly vulnerable.
Dr Leonora Weil, a public health consultant, from the UK Health Security Agency, said: “I strongly encourage everyone celebrating Pesach to prioritise polio vaccination in your planning for the chaggim. Pesach is a time for celebration, getting together with loved ones and even a single case of paralysis from polio would be devastating as it is completely preventable.
“If you’re not sure whether you or your child is vaccinated, check your child’s red book or contact your GP. Get up to date with your polio vaccines before Pesach to protect yourself, your family and the community to ensure a Pesach kasher ve’sameach, and a Pesach in good health.”
Dr Jonathan Cohen, Consultant and Head of Service, Pediatric Infectious Disease at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital said that polio vaccines are safe and prevent this terrible disease.
“It would be a tragedy for a child to catch polio over Pesach because they were not vaccinated,” he said.
In a recent Q & A document launched for the Jewish community health leaders highlighted the importance of vaccinating children.
Professor David Katz, immunologist at UCL and Chair of the Jewish Medical Association, commented: “Vaccines are the safest way to protect your child from diseases like diphtheria, polio and measles. The short and long-term effects of these diseases can be extremely serious and devastating.”
Dr Blumberg, a Stamford Hill GP, noted: “Vaccines are safe. Billions of people have been safely vaccinated from key diseases around the world. All vaccines undergo extensive and rigorous multi-stage testing through clinical trials and are continually monitored for safety and effectiveness. In the UK the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency regulates medicines including vaccines to ensure the highest levels of safety.”
Earlier this month, the New York State Department of Health today called on New Yorkers traveling to Israel and other countries with circulating poliovirus to get fully immunised.
Israel’s Ministry of Health, also this month, confirmed four children testing positive for poliovirus in northern Israel, after one unvaccinated child presented symptoms of paralysis. The other three children are asymptomatic.
Over recent months, sewage samples have produced evidence of continued excretion of poliovirus into the sewer system of localities in Israel. There are over 150,000 children in Israel not vaccinated against polio.
The Ministry of Health has urged the public that the primary way to protect children from paralysis is through inactivated vaccine against polio. To prevent transmission of the virus it is critical to maintain hand hygiene practices. The Ministry will continue to issue updates.
In February 2022 seven children tested positive for poliovirus in Jerusalem, six of were asymptomatic. Israel launched a nationwide vaccination campaign to prevent further spread of the virus.