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  • Writer's pictureThe British Polio Fellowship

London children to be offered polio jabs after rise in disease that can cause paralysis

The programme aims to boost the low take-up in London

Children across London will be offered a jab against polio. The vaccination campaign comes as the disease, which can cause paralysis, was found in sewage samples across London. The illness was found in Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, and Waltham Forest.

The programme aims to boost the low take-up in London. The NHS launched an urgent vaccination programme which saw more than 378,200 children in the capital jabbed between August and the middle of March. Vaccinations were given to 157,600 vaccines in the first two months alone.

London health bosses said there are still children in the capital who are not fully up to date with their vaccinations and therefore could be at risk of catching polio.

Last summer the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the UK had a ‘circulating’ form of polio that can cause serious illnesses such as paralysis on rare occasions in people who are not fully vaccinated. There is no cure for polio and vaccination is the only protection.

The last case of polio in the UK was in 1984 and the discovery in London sewage in 2022 raised the alarm with further tests ordered in 20 other towns in England. No other samples were found. The virus recently caused paralysis of people in the USA and Israel.

What is polio and what are the symptoms?

Polio can also cause symptoms such as fever, headaches and muscle pain and can also lead to complications that affect the brain and nerves, such as muscle weakness.

Hackney’s Spring Hill Surgery urged people to get the vaccine because 'poliovirus can be carried without showing any symptoms and easily transmitted from person to person. Poliovirus is a life-threatening infection of the nerves that can cause serious disability, permanent paralysis, or even death'. However, they said it is 'preventable. and immunisation is the best protection against this disease'.

Parents and carers of children aged one to 11 who are not up to date with their vaccinations are now being offered vaccinations for their children against polio as well measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) through primary schools and community venues.

The number of cases of measles in London is growing and there were 33 confirmed cases between 1 January and 20 April 2023 alone. Ten children between one and four years old had it and ten adults also had measles.

'Very real risk' of polio and measles in London

Dr Yvonne Young, the regional deputy director for the UK Health Security Agency London said: “Poliovirus has the potential to spread where vaccine uptake is low and there is currently a very real risk of this for some of our communities in London. Measles is also currently circulating in London.

“Both infections are entirely preventable and the vaccines give excellent protection. Polio and measles can have tragic consequences if you are not vaccinated and can lead to serious long term health problems. Nobody wants this for their child so if anyone in your family is not fully vaccinated, it’s important to catch up as soon as possible.”

People can also contact their GPs to make sure their families are up to date with their vaccinations in this latest campaign.

Vaccine rates in London lag behind other parts of the country with only 74% fully vaccinated against MMR and 73% fully protected against polio j by the age of five. This is well below the 95% WHO target to ensure the illnesses remain eliminated.

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