Israel has launched a polio vaccination drive after its first case of the disease in more than three decades, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, voicing concern turnout may be depressed by public fatigue over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a viral disease of the brain and spinal cord that can cause irreversible paralysis. It affects mainly children under the age of five. Israel began vaccinating against it in 1957 and previously logged its last case in 1988.
But since March a girl has been diagnosed with the disease and at least six non-symptomatic cases have been detected in the Jerusalem area, the Health Ministry said. All were unvaccinated. The virus was found in sewage from three other cities, it added.
“I view this as very acute. It may be a small case-load right now, but that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Nachman Ash, the ministry’s director-general, told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.
Polio vaccinations are routinely offered to Israeli children. Due to a policy change between 2005 and 2014, some received one oral dose rather than a two-dose regimen.
The ministry’s focus now is on children who skipped the vaccination entirely, or those who got only one oral dose.
Unlike previous polio vaccination drives, “this time it’s far more difficult. People are fatigued from the coronavirus, fatigued from the (COVID-19) vaccines,” Ash said.
East Jerusalem is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians tended to by Israel’s health care system. Many have kin in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians exercise limited self-rule – but have reported no new polio cases.