The concerted global effort to eradicate polio has been one of the greatest success stories in vaccinations, science, and public health in our lifetimes. Almost the entire world, with the exception of Pakistan and Nigeria, where anti-vaccination fears are prevalent, are considered polio-free,
So I was alarmed to read that a new case has been detected in New York.
An unvaccinated young adult from New York recently contracted polio, the first US case in nearly a decade, health officials said Thursday.
Officials said the patient, who lives in Rockland county, had developed paralysis. The person developed symptoms a month ago and did not recently travel outside the country, county health officials said.
It appears the patient had a vaccine-derived strain of the virus, perhaps from someone who got live vaccine – available in other countries, but not the US – and spread it, officials said.
The person is no longer deemed contagious, but investigators are trying to figure out how the infection occurred and whether other people were exposed to the virus. Most Americans are vaccinated against polio, but this should serve as a wake-up call to the unvaccinated, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University pandemic researcher.
“This isn’t normal. We don’t want to see this,” Nuzzo said. “If you’re vaccinated, it’s not something you need to worry about. But if you haven’t gotten your kids vaccinated, it’s really important that you make sure they’re up to date.”
Rockland county, in New York City’s northern suburbs, has been a center of vaccine resistance in recent years. A 2018-2019 measles outbreak there infected 312 people.
We do not know yet why this person was not vaccinated. But another report says that the region where the case occurred is one in which there is a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where the vaccination rates are typically low.
County health officials declined to give personal details about the case, but The New York Times reported that the patient is a man from the Orthodox Jewish community, citing unnamed local elected officials. Community newspaper New York Jewish Week also quoted multiple sources saying the same thing.
Rockland County is home to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in which vaccination rates have historically been very low. In 2018 and 2019, Rockland County was the epicenter of a major measles outbreak that continued for nearly a year and sickened 312 people. County health officials reported at the time that only 8% of cases had been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella before the outbreak began.
I hope this case was not due to misguided fears about vaccines. Some people cannot get certain vaccinations because of their health conditions which is why everyone who can get vaccinated should do so, so that they do not inadvertently put the lives of the unvaccinated in danger.
I have a personal interest in this, having contracted polio as a child in the 1950s, just before the widespread availability of the vaccinations. I would hate to see the return of this disease because of ignorance of the benefits of vaccinations due to misinformation being spread by people, some with political agendas.