Polio declared 'imminent threat' in NY as health officials push vaccination. What to know

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett on Wednesday declared poliovirus an imminent threat to public health in New York, citing a need to expand efforts to curb the polio outbreak that originated in Rockland and Orange counties.

The order in part expands the availability of state funding and resources to support local health departments in establishing vaccination clinics, deploying vaccine doses to health care providers, and conducting public outreach in communities with low vaccination rates, Bassett said in a statement.

"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," she added.

The action came after wastewater testing revealed the rapid spread of the poliovirus this summer. Last month, testing discovered evidence of poliovirus circulating in Nassau County. Previously, wastewater monitoring uncovered the virus in New York City, Sullivan County and Orange County, following the discovery that an unvaccinated young adult in Rockland suffered polio-related paralysis in July.

The measure enables localities to continue to work closely with the state Department of Health's Office of Public Health Practice to claim reimbursement for public health activities related to the polio response. The commissioner's declaration covers poliovirus response activities undertaken from July 21 through Dec. 31.

The declaration noted the additional "funds will be made available only after all federal and state as well as other forms of aid that might become available have been expended." The local health departments would then receive reimbursement from the state coffers of up to 50% of of the cost of emergency response efforts under the declaration, state health officials added.

How is NY responding to polio?

The announcement came after Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sept. 9 declared a state disaster emergency related to the polio outbreak.

That order in part expanded the list of people eligible to administer polio vaccinations, adding EMS workers, midwives, and pharmacists.

It also authorized doctors and certified nurse practitioners to issue non-patient-specific standing orders for polio vaccines, as officials race to close gaps in polio vaccination rates that leave thousands of New Yorkers vulnerable to polio-related paralysis and illness.

The sample collected in August from Nassau County has been genetically linked to the case of paralytic polio in Rockland County, further evidence of expanding community spread, health officials said. All samples reported are samples of concern, meaning they are types of poliovirus that can cause paralysis in humans.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” Bassett said. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real."

"Polio immunization is safe and effective – protecting nearly all people against disease who receive the recommended doses," she added. "Do not wait to vaccinate."

NY recommends polio vaccine booster for high-risk groups

A polio vaccine shot is given at Rockland County's Yeager Health Center in Pomona July 25, 2022.
A polio vaccine shot is given at Rockland County's Yeager Health Center in Pomona July 25, 2022.

Health officials have also recommended some high-risk New Yorkers who have previously completed their polio vaccine series should receive one lifetime booster dose.

Those recommended for a booster include:

  • People who will or might have close contact with a person known or suspected to be infected with poliovirus, or such person’s household members or other close contacts.

  • Healthcare providers working in areas where poliovirus has been detected (Rockland County, Orange County, Sullivan County, New York City, or Nassau County) who might handle specimens that might contain polioviruses or who treat patients who might have polio (e.g., urgent care, emergency department, neurology, virology laboratory workers).

  • People with occupational exposure to wastewater can consider a booster.

Polio in New York: What a CDC report says about Rockland's case and potential spread

Sewer clues: How NY wastewater samples revealed polio's silent spread

What to know about how polio spreads

Polio is a dangerous, debilitating, and life-threatening disease, health officials said. Poliovirus enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected individual.

People can spread the virus even if they do not know they are sick, and asymptomatic spread is a high concern among health officials.

According to CDC, 70% of people infected with polio experience no symptoms. About 25% experience mild or flu-like symptoms that may be mistaken for many other illnesses.

About 1 in 100 people infected with polio will develop severe disease, including permanent paralysis. Of those paralyzed, 2-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Based on evidence from earlier polio outbreaks, health officials estimate that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected.

The state disaster emergency declared by Hochul also requires healthcare providers to send polio immunization data to the state Health Department through the New York State Immunization Information System. That will enable state officials and local health departments to focus vaccination activities where they are needed most and have yet another datapoint to understand the level of protection against polio in communities, Bassett noted on Friday.

The polio vaccine has proven nearly 100% effective at preventing illness, which is why widespread vaccination campaigns led to U.S. health officials declaring the disease eradicated in 1979, despite rare cases imported by international travelers. Statewide, the vaccination rate among children average was nearly 79%, though some counties like Rockland, Orange and Sullivan were lower at around 60%.

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Polio declared 'imminent threat' in NY amid vaccination push: Latest