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Polio is back. Yale doctor encourages everyone to get protected

April 1959: Bottles containing the polio vaccine.
M. McKeown
Getty Images
April 1959: Bottles containing the polio vaccine.

Health officials in New York and Connecticut are urging local communities to make sure they are up to date on their polio vaccinations before the school year begins.

In late July, a person tested positive in Rockland County, New York. Since then, both states are monitoring wastewater to determine where the virus may be circulating, so they can inform local communities that may be undervaccinated for the disease.

State health officials are also urging those with children to complete their polio vaccinations, as well as adults who may have not received the vaccination.

“In areas that are undervaccinated you can have small or even medium sized outbreaks and that’s what we’ve been seeing in various parts of the world for the last several years. But almost never in a developed nation,” said Dr. Howie Forman, professor of public health at Yale School of Medicine. “You just don’t see it in the UK or the U.S. or so on. But now we have evidence there is an outbreak in the U.S.”

Some parents may have delayed school-required vaccinations due to the pandemic.

Most Fairfield County schools are above herd immunity of 80% polio vaccination rate. Long Island school children are 79% vaccinated.

Polio disease, although rare in the U.S., can lead to permanent paralysis and in rare cases can be fatal.

Forman said people who have been vaccinated against the disease, even with an oral vaccine, have no need to worry. The U.S. replaced the oral polio vaccine in 2000 for an inactive polio virus vaccine instead. Forman said the oral vaccine still provides protection from polio.

“Even though we describe the current outbreak as being from vaccine-derived polio virus, this does not mean it’s being caused by a vaccine,” he said. “It means that in a population where initially someone was given the oral polio vaccine the virus mutates in that person and reoccurs in people who have never been vaccinated.”

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.