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Polio virus spreading in Waltham Forest

All Waltham Forest children aged one to nine will be offered a booster shot of the vaccine
By Waltham Forest Echo

The sewage works in Newham, where signs of the virus spreading were first found (credit: Thames Water)
The sewage works in Newham, where signs of the virus spreading were first found (credit: Thames Water)

Children aged one to nine will be offered a booster dose of the polio vaccine after signs the virus is spreading in the borough.

While the overall risk to the population is still considered low, the Government hopes to reduce further spread and ensure a high level of protection from paralysis.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) first warned that vaccine-derived poliovirus had been found in east London’s sewage in June, suggesting “there has been some spread between closely linked individuals in North-East London”.

However, following further testing, evidence suggests “transmission has gone beyond a close network of a few individuals” in Waltham Forest and seven other London boroughs in north and east London.

Booster vaccines will be offered first to children in Waltham Forest and other affected boroughs, followed by a “rapid rollout” across London.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA said: “No cases of polio have been reported and for the majority of the population, who are fully vaccinated, the risk is low.

“But we know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates. This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk.

“Polio is a serious infection that can cause paralysis… The last case of polio in the UK was in 1984 but, before we introduced the polio vaccination programme decades ago, around 8000 people would develop paralysis every year.

“It is vital parents ensure their children are fully vaccinated for their age. All children aged one to nine years in London need to have a dose of polio vaccine now – whether it’s an extra booster dose or just to catch up with their routine vaccinations.”

Polio is a stomach bug that can, in a very small number of cases, spread to the nervous system and cause muscle weakness, paralysis or even death.

The virus strains found are believed to have mutated from a weakened but living form of the poliovirus used to vaccinate people in some foreign countries, which has not been used in the UK since 2004. 

These weaker “vaccine viruses” can spread in under-vaccinated communities and, in the process, mutate into a stronger “vaccine-derived poliovirus”, which behaves more like the original strain. 

Covid vaccines do not use a live form of the virus, meaning a similar phenomenon will not happen.

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