20 Million in Mideast to Get Polio Vaccine
Published: November 11, 2013
Health officials will try to get polio vaccines to more than 20 million children across the Middle East to contain a major outbreak there, the World Health Organization and Unicef announced last week.
The region was polio-free for 10 years, until a Pakistani strain was detected in sewers in Egypt in January. It has since been found in sewers in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Last month, 10 paralyzed children in Syria were confirmed to be polio victims.
Children there and in parts of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey will be targeted. Some will also get M.M.R. vaccines.
Polio’s return to the Middle East could threaten Europe because Syrians have been seeking refuge there and tourists visit Israel, two German infectious disease experts argued in a letter to The Lancet last week.
But the W.H.O.’s chief of polio eradication and the chief doctor for the United Nations refugee agency disputed their warning, saying polio wasn’t more likely to spread from Syria and Israel than other countries with domestic outbreaks and large expatriate communities in Europe and North America, including Somalia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The men who issued the warning, Martin Eichner, an epidemiologist at the University of Tübingen, and Stefan O. Brockmann, an infection control official, said the West’s reliance on killed polio vaccine could mask an outbreak, because victims avoid paralysis but may still shed virus in feces. Outbreaks, they warned, could begin in groups that refuse vaccines.
Dr. Bruce Aylward of the W.H.O. said few tourists visit sewage-filled streets. And Dr. Paul Spiegel of the refugee agency said all those who pass through camps are vaccinated, and the agency is pursuing those living outside.