Fresh polio vaccine drive to help protect kids

Nearly 400,000 children have been jabbed in London so far but many remain unprotected, reports Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

A drive to encourage more children to get vaccinated against polio has been launched as health bosses warn “nobody wants this illness for their child.”

The renewed vaccine programme comes after polio was found in 30 sewage samples in London last year in Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, and Waltham Forest. It aims to boost the low take-up in London.

Last year the NHS launched an urgent vaccination programme which saw more than 378,200 children in the capital jabbed between August and the middle of March this year.

London health bosses said there are still children in the capital who are not fully up-to-date with their vaccinations and therefore could be at risk of catching polio.

Last summer the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the UK had a “circulating” form of polio that can cause serious illnesses such as paralysis, on rare occasions, in people who are not fully vaccinated. There is no cure for polio and vaccination is the only form of protection.

The last case of polio in the UK was in 1984 but the discovery of the virus in London sewage in 2022 raised the alarm with further tests ordered in 20 other towns in England. No other samples were found.

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Polio can also cause symptoms such as fever, headaches and muscle pain and  can also lead to complications that affect the brain and nerves, such as muscle weakness. The virus recently caused paralysis of people in the USA and Israel.

Parents and carers of children aged one to eleven who are not up to date with their vaccinations are now being offered vaccinations for their children against polio as well measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) through primary schools and community venues.

The number of cases of measles in London is growing and there were 33 confirmed cases between 1st January and 20th April alone.

Dr Yvonne Young, regional deputy director for the UK Health Security Agency London, said: “Poliovirus has the potential to spread where vaccine uptake is low and there is currently a very real risk of this for some of our communities in London. Measles is also currently circulating in London.

“Both infections are entirely preventable and the vaccines give excellent protection. Polio and measles can have tragic consequences if you are not vaccinated and can lead to serious long-term health problems. Nobody wants this for their child, so if anyone in your family is not fully vaccinated, it’s important to catch up as soon as possible.”

People can also contact their GPs to make sure their families are up-to-date with their vaccinations.

Vaccine rates in London lag behind other parts of the country, with only 74% fully vaccinated against MMR and 73% fully protected against polio by the age of five. This is well below the 95% WHO target to ensure the illnesses remain eliminated.

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