New York declares a state of emergency over polio

New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency over polio on Friday in order to increase vaccination rates across the state.

So far, the virus has been detected in Rockland, Sullivan and Orange Counties, as well as New York City (as of August) and now Nassau county on Long Island.

The governor declared the emergency so that there will be a bigger pool of workers to administer the vaccine in areas where the vaccination rate has fallen off, according to CNBC.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement. “I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all. Polio immunization is safe and effective—protecting nearly all people against disease who receive the recommended doses.”

Apparently, vaccinations among children in NYC have fallen since 2019, “putting us at risk for outbreaks and devastating complications of vaccine-preventable diseases,” both city and state officials said in August. Then, only 86.2% of NYC children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old have received three doses of the polio vaccine and nearly 14% aren’t fully protected.

According to an NYC map, the neighborhoods with the lowest polio vaccination rates right now are Williamsburg, Battery Park City, Bed-Stuy and East Williamsburg, ranging from just 56% to 65%.

To bump up these neighborhoods’ percentages, the department of health is working with community-based organizations in the affected areas on “outreach, disseminating education about the virus, the safe, protective nature of the well-established immunization, and the gravity of the current situation.”

So, as NYC deals with this resurgence, there’s a lot to know about polio and ways to prevent it. Below, we’ve answered some common questions using information from the New York State and NYC health departments.

What is polio?

Polio is a life-threatening, highly contagious virus that can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness and even in some cases paralysis or death.

How is polio transmitted?

Polio is very contagious and enters the body through the mouth, often from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person (wash your hands). It is also possible to get it through respiratory transmission and through mouth-to-mouth contact via saliva.

Although it has been detected in our wastewater, we cannot get it from drinking water or other public water sources, according to Medical News Today.

“In areas where the wastewater is thoroughly treated before being released back into the environment and there are good water purification practices there is very, very, very little risk to the general population, but could be a risk for personnel working in wastewater facilities,” Dr. Marny Eulberg told the publication.

Do I need to worry about Polio when I’m out in NYC?

It is not impossible to catch polio when out and about since it is spread through droplets, saliva and fecal matter, but if you are vaccinated there is little cause to worry. That being said, always wash your hands.

What are polio’s symptoms?

Symptoms of polio can be mild and flu-like, including fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain and vomiting. It can take up to 30 days for it to appear, but an infected person can be contagious during this time and spread the virus to others, even if they don’t have symptoms yet.

Polio can result in paralysis, permanent disability or post-polio syndrome, and death.

Do you need a vaccine for polio?

Yes, while there is no cure for polio, there is a vaccine for people 2 months and older that when fully completed provides 99% protection.

How do I know if I have had the polio vaccine?

The polio vaccine has long been included on the CDC’s child and adolescent immunization schedule (and NYSDOH’s required school immunization list), so all school-age New Yorkers have to be vaccinated before they start school. That means that many New Yorkers are already fully and safely vaccinated. If you’re unsure, check your medical records and reach out to your parent or former guardian.

Do I need a booster?

If you’ve had contact with someone who is infected with polio or you’re a healthcare or sanitation worker in an area where polio has been detected, you should get a booster.

If you have only received one or two doses of the vaccine (and haven’t completed the series), you should get a booster.

Where do you get a vaccine for polio?

If you or your child are not vaccinated, reach out to your doctor or your local county health department to get immunized. If you do not have a healthcare provider, call 311 or 844-NYC-4NYC (844-692-4692) for help finding one.

What is the polio vaccine schedule?

Adults who have never been vaccinated against polio should get 3 doses, the first dose at any time, the second about one to two months later and the third six to 12 months after the second. If you have only had one or two doses, you should finish your series—it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the earlier doses.

All children need to have four doses of the polio vaccine to be fully vaccinated, with one dose at each of the following ages:

Dose 1: 6 weeks through 2 months old
Dose 2: 4 months old
Dose 3: 6 through 18 months old
Dose 4: 4 through 6 years old

Is the polio vaccine safe?

Yes! The inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) has been given in the U.S. since 2000 and protects 99% of children who get all the doses. It has protected millions of New Yorkers in every community, statewide, against polio for over 22 years, according to the CDC. It cannot give you polio or cause paralysis.

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