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Polio jabs offered to children aged one to 11 as London plays vaccine catch-up

A rollout of vaccines is planned after poliovirus was detected in the capital's sewage samples - iStockphoto
A rollout of vaccines is planned after poliovirus was detected in the capital's sewage samples - iStockphoto

Children aged one to 11 in London will be offered polio vaccines as part of a catch-up campaign.

Health officials warned last year that there had been "some transmission" of the virus in the capital after detecting poliovirus in sewage samples.

A booster campaign was launched in the summer to raise immunity among children as quickly as possible.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Thursday that there have been fewer poliovirus detections in London, which suggests reduced community transmission.

But vaccine rates in some London boroughs are still too low and a further campaign will now take place to boost rates.

Vaccine catch-up campaign

Polio, which was officially eradicated in the UK in 2003, can cause paralysis in rare cases and can be life-threatening.

The World Health Organisation requires evidence of 12 months of zero detections before the UK is no longer considered to be a polio "infected" country.

Covid-19 and school lockdowns caused some disruption to the polio vaccination programme, with parents reporting their children had missed out on school-age booster jabs.

The UKHSA has previously said the pandemic has presented “many challenges” to routine vaccinations of children and young people, due to school absences, closures and competing rollouts of Covid and flu jabs.

“There may also be some ‘vaccine fatigue’ amongst parents following multiple vaccine offers in close succession and confusion about what is being offered,” said officials earlier this year.

On Thursday, the UKHSA 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 pre-school booster for children aged five is even lower at 69.9 per cent in London, compared with 83.4 per cent in England.

The latest data show 377,356 children aged one to nine in London had a polio vaccination since Aug 10, out of 900,000 who are eligible.

The NHS in London will therefore deliver a catch-up campaign, offering 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, said the UKHSA.

Paralysis 'completely preventable'

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said: "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.

"Until we reach every last child, we cannot be sure that we will not see a case of paralysis.

"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."

The UKHSA said a total of 135 poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2) isolates have been identified in 30 sewage samples collected in London between Feb 8 and Nov 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 rolled out 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.

The UKHSA said no paralytic polio cases have been reported in patients in England, but added that there is still a risk that the VDPV2 could cause paralysis in an unvaccinated individual.