State health commissioner declares polio ‘imminent threat to public health’

Posted 28 September 2022 at 4:09 pm

Press Release, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

Governor Kathy Hochul today announced additional steps New York State is taking to address evidence of circulating poliovirus in New York State, including an official declaration to further support local health departments in driving immunizations.

Earlier today, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett declared poliovirus an imminent threat to public health in New York State, thereby expanding the availability of funding and resources to support local health departments in establishing immunization clinics, deploying vaccine to health care partners, and conducting outreach to unvaccinated and under-vaccinated New Yorkers to increase immunization rates particularly in the areas affected by the virus and among children.

“From day one, we’ve taken an aggressive public health approach to combat the spread of polio and ensure New Yorkers are protected,” Governor Hochul said. “This declaration will bolster our ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers against paralytic disease, prevent spread, and support our public health partners.”

The declaration enables localities to continue to work closely with the State Department of Health’s Office of Public Health Practice to claim reimbursement for these public health activities. The Commissioner’s declaration covers poliovirus response activities undertaken from July 21 through Dec. 31.

Working with the State Department of Health, local health departments continue to actively respond to polio in New York State through wastewater monitoring, clinical surveillance, and vaccine administration for unimmunized and under-immunized New Yorkers. These departments are also conducting education and outreach in communities where the virus has been detected to spread greater awareness and encourage vaccination, particularly to parents and guardians of young children.

New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, “Working daily with local county health departments, our partners at CDC, and trusted leaders, the Department is working effectively to increase childhood and community vaccination rates in counties where the virus has been detected. Thanks to long-established school immunization requirements, the vast majority of adults, and most children, are fully vaccinated against polio. Our focus remains on ensuring the on-time administration of polio vaccination among young children and catching kids and adults up who are unimmunized and under-immunized in the affected areas. That work continues at full force.”

Following the identification of a case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated individual in Rockland County, the State Health Department launched wastewater surveillance, a tool to check for signs of the virus in sewage water in communities. Sequence analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since found repeated evidence of poliovirus detected in samples collected from Rockland County, Orange County, and Sullivan County as well as detected in samples collected from New York City and Nassau County.

New York State has focused its efforts in areas where the threat is concentrated, which includes where there is repeated detection, and where there is a relatively low percentage of children that have completed their three-dose polio regimen by the age of 2. These areas include Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan Counties.

Polio vaccination has long been part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule and New York State’s requirements to attend school. Most adults and many children in New York State are already vaccinated.

Parents and guardians with children 17 years of age or younger who are unvaccinated or not up to date with their polio immunizations should immediately make sure their children get up to date with all recommended doses.

Polio is a serious, life-threatening disease that affects the nervous system and can cause muscle weakness, paralysis, or death. Polio is very contagious and can be spread by someone even if they aren’t sick or experiencing symptoms, which range from mild flu-like symptoms to paralysis, permanent disability, and death.