Child given polio vaccine in Be'er Sheva
Child given polio vaccine in Be'er ShevaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The campaign to eradicate polio in Israel that has been conducted in southern Israel over the past several days has now spread to the rest of the country. Parents of children born on 1.1.2004 or later have been asked to bring their children to the nearest Tipat Chalav child health clinic so that they may be given the oral polio vaccine.

Health Ministry officials decided to expand the operation after repeated tests showed the wild polio virus in sewage, and showed that the virus has been spreading to children. So far there have been no cases of illness caused by the virus.

Officials stressed that the decision to vaccinate children nationwide is backed by senior Israeli medical experts and international health experts.

The ministry has ordered a total of one million doses of the vaccines, which have been distributed to centers across the country. In southern Israel, where the operation started, roughly 60,000 children have been given the oral vaccine – 60% of the target population.

Parents who plan to bring their children to be vaccinated should go to their usual Tipat Chalav branch, and should bring each child’s vaccination notebook (pinkas hisunim).

Health Ministry officials answered several common questions about the vaccine:

Should I vaccinate my children?

Definitely. The wild polio virus has appeared in Israel, a virus that can cause paralysis and even death. The danger is real, and will not disappear if children are not vaccinated. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent infection and illness with polio.

Why do children who were already immunized need this vaccine?

The children were given a vaccine that protects them from becoming ill, but does not prevent them from carrying the virus or infecting others. Our tests have found that most carriers are children ages 10 and under. These children were given the inactivated vaccine, but not the weakened live-virus vaccine. So they need to be given the weakened live-virus vaccine to prevent them from carrying and spreading the polio virus.

Is the vaccine safe?

When the vaccines are integrated, it’s completely safe. “Integrated” means the weakened live-virus vaccine is given only to those who were already given the inactivated virus vaccine, and only if they have no contact with an immunocompromised individual.

In Israel, the vaccine has been given in this manner since 1990, and in that time there has been no case of illness due to the vaccine, not among those who received the vaccine or among those around them.

This oral vaccine has been used with more than 2.5 billion people. The vaccine is registered in the country in which it was produced (Belgium), and has been approved for use in every country on earth by the World Health Organization.

Why was it decided to expand use of the vaccine to the entire country?

Polio was found in Lod, Ramle and the Sharon region, indicating that the virus continues to spread. The results are clear and unequivocal: the wild polio virus is in Israel, and it is passing from person to person, from city to city. It’s only a matter of time until it reaches the entire country.

How long will the operation be?

At this stage, it has been defined as a three-month operation. However, we recommend receiving the vaccine before returning to school or daycare, in order to reduce transmission of the virus among children as much as possible.

It should be noted that the ministry has been holding conferences for doctors and nurses, city officials, local leaders, and senior religious leaders from all parts of the population, as part of this operation. Parents may receive further explanation through the media, through the Health Ministry hotline at *5400, and online.