New York governor declares state of emergency over polio

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The push to get New Yorkers vaccinated against polio has intensified.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett declared a state of emergency, as the poliovirus is showing up in more communities downstate.

Hochul said she has one primary goal with this move: to increase polio vaccination rates statewide.

Back in July, NewsChannel 13 told you about a polio case discovered in Rockland County. At the time, health officials tied that case to an unvaccinated man, who ended up paralyzed.

Since then, the virus has been traced to sewage wastewater in a number of other places, including Sullivan and Orange counties, New York City, and now Nassau County on Long Island. The New York State Health Department said all of these places have below-average vaccination rates.

Dr. James Saperstone, a pediatrician in Guilderland, said this could be pretty serious.

“It’s a rare disease now but this thing could heat up,” Saperstone said. “It’s a threat because we don’t know who is vaccinated and not vaccinated. You get to a large city like NYC, there are lots of people who just weren’t vaccinated.”

The CDC recommends all children should receive their four doses of the polio vaccine by the age of 5. Adults should receive three total doses.

Saperstone said many people were not going to the doctor during the pandemic, and they might have missed some or all of their polio vaccines.

“Even a little opening like that where there are partially vaccinated people, in a situation where you’re seeing a ramp up of the virus, leads to more spread.”

Saperstone said he does not think it will get to the point of another polio epidemic like there was in the 1950s and even before that. However, it’s something to be really careful about.