The UK will “urgently” offer hundreds of thousands of London-based children aged one to nine a polio vaccine booster as sewage surveillance suggests transmission is occurring in parts of the capital.
The move will help strengthen protection against polio-related paralysis in London and interrupt transmission of the virus, the UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday.
“Nationally the overall risk of paralytic polio is considered low because most people are protected from this by vaccination,” it noted.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said nobody had been diagnosed with the virus, adding that many countries, including Belgium and Portugal, adopted a similar vaccination approach as part of their routine childhood immunisations.
“Vaccines offer the best defence to children, and those around them, so I would encourage families to ensure they are up to date with their routine jabs, and to come forward for the polio booster as soon as they are contacted by the NHS,” he said.
The UKHSA said routine wastewater surveillance indicated “there is some level of virus transmission” in the boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest and adjacent areas, suggesting that “transmission has gone beyond a close network of a few individuals”.
No cases of polio have been detected in the UK, which has been free of the virus since 2003, the UKHSA said. Wednesday’s announcement comes after cases were detected in Jerusalem and New York City. The health agency said it was investigating links between the three countries.
Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said that decades ago, before the deployment of vaccines, the disease caused paralysis in about 8,000 people a year.
The booster dose will be in addition to the NHS childhood vaccination catch-up campaign across London, the UKHSA said, adding that it was “important” for all eligible children to accept the vaccine, even if they were up to date with their jabs, to help strengthen protection.
GPs will mostly be responsible for offering the extra dose and parents should wait to be contacted within the next month, it said.
The poliovirus was detected in wastewater samples earlier this year, UK health authorities said in June. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization, potentially causing severe disease and paralysis in a small but significant group of patients.
The UKHSA has increased sewage surveillance nationally to determine the extent of the virus’ spread and is sampling eight further sites across London. A further 15 sites in the capital will begin sampling in mid-August, with another 10 to 15 to be set up in other parts of the country.