New York Declares State of Emergency Over Growing Polio Concerns

The move will help expand access to the polio vaccine for unvaccinated New Yorkers.

Mature doctor talking to senior man before applying vaccine - wearing face mask
Photo: Getty Images

New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state disaster emergency Friday, after poliovirus was detected most recently in wastewater samples from Nassau County.

The executive order is meant to increase the availability of resources to protect against the disease—namely by expanding the network of healthcare providers able to administer vaccines, which should allow more people to get vaccinated.

"On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice," State Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH, said in a press release. "If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date on your vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all."

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) first identified a case of paralytic polio in July in a Rockland County resident. The case launched an investigation into the wastewater in surrounding communities—since people can shed poliovirus in their stool—and additional poliovirus samples were collected from Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties, as well as New York City, and now Nassau County.

In Nassau—now the fifth area in New York to have poliovirus detected in the wastewater—the sample was genetically linked to the case of paralytic polio in Rockland County, suggesting community spread.

According to the NYSDOH, all of the reported samples are considered "samples of concern," meaning they are types of poliovirus able to infect and potentially cause paralysis in humans.

An Executive Order to Increase Immunization Efforts

Governor Hochul's declaration of a state disaster emergency will help to increase the availability of resources to help protect New Yorkers from poliovirus.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, and other EMS workers will be able to administer the polio vaccine, along with other healthcare professionals including midwives, and pharmacists. Physicians and certified nurse practitioners will also be able to issue non-specific standing orders for vaccines.

The executive order also requires healthcare providers to send polio vaccination data to the NYSDOH, so the state can focus vaccination efforts where they're needed and track community protection levels.

The state of emergency is set to expire on October 9.

All Unvaccinated New Yorkers Urged to Get Polio Vaccine ASAP

New York State health officials are once again urging all unvaccinated New Yorkers as young as 2 months old to get vaccinated right away. People who are pregnant and people who did not previously complete their polio vaccine series should also get immunized.

People who are unvaccinated, the NYSDOH said, are at the highest risk of contracting paralytic polio. The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)—the only polio vaccine available in the U.S.—offers 99–100% of people protection after all recommended doses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following polio vaccine schedules:

  • Children should get four doses of the IPV: one at 2 months, one at 4 months, one between 6–18 months, and one between 4–6 years old.
  • People older than 4 years old, or people unsure if they've been vaccinated should receive three doses.
  • Adults who have been incompletely vaccinated and need their remaining vaccines should receive them regardless of the time between doses.

The NYSDOH is also recommending certain vaccinated New Yorkers receive a lifetime booster dose of IPV, including:

  • Individuals who will or may have close contact with someone known or suspected to have poliovirus.
  • Healthcare providers in areas where poliovirus has been detected, or who might handle poliovirus specimens.
  • Individuals who are exposed to wastewater through their occupation.

Poliovirus is largely preventable, and vaccines for polio are safe and effective.

"Do not wait to vaccinate," Dr. Bassett said. "If you are unsure of you or your families' vaccination status, contact a healthcare provider, clinic, or local county health department to make sure you and your loved ones receive all recommended doses."

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