London children offered polio vaccine catch-up
Primary school pupils in London are being offered catch-up polio vaccinations after warning signs of the disease were identified across the capital.
The disease was officially eradicated in the UK in 2003 after years of vaccination programmes, but poliovirus traces were found in north and east London sewage in early 2022.
An emergency vaccination-booster campaign in London last summer reached more than 370,000 children but levels are still lower than in other parts of the country, the UK Health Security Agency (UK HSA) said.
Polio is a debilitating, life-threatening disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause paralysis or death.
“Until we reach every last child, we cannot be sure that we will not see a case of paralysis,” said Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UK HSA.
“Even a single case of paralysis from polio would be a tragedy as it is completely preventable.
“Only by improving vaccination coverage across all communities can we ensure resilience against future disease threats.”
Health officials warned last year that there had been “some transmission” of the virus in the capital after detecting poliovirus in sewage samples.
The UK HSA said on Thursday there were fewer poliovirus detections in London, which suggests reduced community transmission but added that vaccine rates in some London boroughs is still too low.
“While there are early signs of reduced spread of the poliovirus in London, we need to continue to improve uptake of childhood vaccines in all communities,” Dr Saliba said.
UK HSA said 87.6 per cent of children in London are receiving all their polio vaccinations by the time they turn one, compared with 92.1 per cent in England as a whole.
Uptake for the preschool booster for children aged five is even lower at 69.9 per cent in London compared with 83.4 per cent in England.
The NHS in London will offer polio jabs and other routine childhood vaccines such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children aged one to 11 during the summer term.
Children will receive vaccines through a combination of primary school and community clinics, with a particular focus on supporting communities with the lowest levels of vaccine uptake, the UK HSA said.
“London is a very bustling, urban metropolis with lots of mobile populations, lots of diverse communities,” Dr Saliba said.
“We need to engage with these communities [so] that we get the messages across to them and that we make vaccines as accessible as possible.
“This is why the NHS is offering vaccinations through schools to children who have missed out.”
UK HSA said 135 poliovirus type 2 isolates were identified in 30 sewage samples collected in London between February 8 and November 8 last year.
While the sewage surveillance was expanded to cover the whole of London, to date the virus has mainly been detected in samples from north and east London.
In September, sewage surveillance was extended to 18 areas outside the capital on a precautionary basis to determine whether the virus had spread further.
To date, the poliovirus found in London has not been detected at any of these sites.