The governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, has declared a state of emergency over concerns over the spread of an unusual polio outbreak currently threatening the state.
Hochul ordered an emergency expansion of the state’s polio vaccination efforts after scientists detected the crippling and potentially deadly virus in Long Island wastewater.
The latest test results have added Nassau County to the list of locales on alert for the potential spread of the dangerous disease amid a resurgence enabled by low vaccination rates in children.
“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” said the state’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, in a statement. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real.”
She added, “Polio immunization is safe and effective – protecting nearly all people against disease who receive the recommended doses. Do not wait to vaccinate.”
The governor’s emergency order aims to bolster the state’s vaccination effort by making it easier for parents to get children vaccinated without needing to see a doctor. Now, pharmacists, paramedics, and midwives will be able to dispense the vaccine, too.
Public health officials have also spotted the virus in the wastewater systems in New York City and in upstate communities, including Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties.
Hochul’s order comes nearly two months after officials recorded the first — and so far only — case of paralytic polio in Rockland County in July, which was contracted by an unidentified person.
State scientists say that a genetic analysis of the virus sample from Nassau County reveals that it is linked to the initial case in Rockland.
About one-in-every 100 people infected with polio will develop a severe version of the disease that often includes permanent paralysis. The paralysis can be so severe that a person’s lungs are no longer able to function.
For decades, polio was among the most feared diseases in the country because it can cause paralysis — sometimes to the point where a person cannot breathe without help.
The horrors of the disease were driven home by images in the 1940s, and 50s of children lined up in hospital wards, struggling to breathe with the help of iron lungs.
Polio was effectively banished from the United States in the 1970s following decades of aggressive vaccination, which included officials ordering parents to get their children inoculated to attend school.
However, this current outbreak is likely due to scores of unvaccinated children in communities that have claimed a religious exemption to mandated school vaccinations.
The State health department assures anyone living in or traveling to New York that has been vaccinated, even if it were decades ago, has nothing to fear, reminding people that the polio vaccine lasts a lifetime.