The Health Ministry is set to announce in the coming days that it is embarking on an emergency inoculation program to protect some 200,000 children from polio. A report on Channel 10 Tuesday night said that doctors have found hundreds of people carrying the disease in recent days, especially in the south.
If the government approves the program, inoculations could begin as soon as next week. Inoculations will most likely be given at Tipat Halav (Mother and Child Wellness) clinics, and will be offered free or at low cost.
Israeli children have been inoculated against polio for generations, but the inoculation, whole preventing them from getting the disease, did not stop them from being carriers. As a result, children with weaker immune systems could be susceptible to the disease, even if they received inoculations. A new version of polio vaccine eliminates the disease from the body altogether, preventing it from being spread altogether.
The Channel 10 report said that the Health Ministry had ordered 500,000 doses of the new vaccine, in the event that polio was found in large amounts in other parts of the country. Professor Moti Ravid, director of Maayanei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, said that it was very possible that some children had contracted polio without even realizing it. “One out of every 100 polio patients is stricken with paralysis, partially or fully,” he said. “There may be some children out there who are ill, with doctors attributing their problems to something else.”
Polio has been found in recent months in several places in southern Israel. In May, the virus was found in sewage from the Bedouin city of Rahat. Later, samples were found in sewage in Beersheva, Ashdod, and Tel Aviv. Experts said that the outbreak seemed to be centered on Rahat, and it may have spread from there. According to a leading expert on Islam, Daniel Pipes, polio is making a major comeback among Muslims.
In 2003, Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria and a physician, said that the vaccination program in his country was part of a Western conspiracy to render Muslim children infertile. His call for an end to the polio immunization campaign touched a nerve and spread to other Muslim religious leaders in Nigeria, causing the vaccination process to slow down and incidences of the disease to pick up. “From Nigeria, this dual phenomenon of conspiracy theory and re-appearance of the disease then expanded to Muslims internationally,” wrote Pipes, who has been following the resurgence of the disease.
“So closely connected have Islam and polio become that the Muslim-only pilgrimage to Mecca became a major mechanism of transmitting the disease to faraway places like Indonesia,” Pipes wrote.
MK Shuli Mualem (Bayit Yehudi), deputy head of the Health Committee, called on the Ministry to increase its contacts with the population, and to set a goal of inoculating as many people – especially children – as soon as possible.