On Sunday morning, the Head of Public Health Services in Israel, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis spoke to a Knesset Health Committee and stated that the recent outbreak of polio cases in the country was because of lack of vaccinations against the disease. On March 8th, a four-year-old child was discovered to have polio symptoms in the Jerusalem area. Since then, there have been eight children who have been diagnosed with the disease. An extensive operation has been launched by the Health Ministry since then for detecting new cases and for increasing vaccination rates in areas and communities where they are low.
In a Health Committee meeting on Sunday morning that was led by MK Idit Silman, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis shed some light on the challenges that health officials are dealing with in their attempt to contain a potential outbreak of polio. She said that there were several reasons that have made it a challenge. She stated that because of fake news, everyone is now questioning the vaccine as well, even though it has been around for years and has actually eliminated diseases. She asserted that another key reason was a lack of logistical planning because of the frequent closure of schools that the education system had to deal with in the last two years due to the COVID-19 outbreak globally.
Routine vaccinations are administered to children in Israel in a number of places, which includes schools as well. The school closures and lockdowns that were implemented throughout the country due to the coronavirus pandemic caused many children to fall behind on their routine vaccinations and they fell through the cracks in the health system. However, Alroy-Preis stated that this was a secondary issue and could be resolved. She stressed that the more pressing issue was about people choosing to not vaccinate their children, whether it is because they find the system too complicated to navigate, or for ideological reasons.
She said that the situation in Jerusalem was not because of just school closures in COVID. She said that there are entire communities who refuse to vaccinate, either for technical or ideological reasons. She said that they have too many kids for vaccination, or keeping up with the schedule is too much. Alroy-Preis stated that the Health Ministry was working on finding a solution that could help in simplifying the process for families with multiple children. As for those who are choosing not to vaccinate because of ideological reasons, she said that health officials should find a way of approaching them, talking to them and then educating them.
Majority of the polio cases that have been diagnosed so far have been asymptomatic and only 10% to 20% people had flu-like symptoms. There are less than 1% cases that have led to paralysis, like the four-year old in Jerusalem. According to Alroy-Preis, this means that there are likely hundreds of kids in Jerusalem who have the virus, but are unaware of it, which means it is a must to vaccinate against the disease.