Children under 10 will get polio boosters as virus returns to UK for first time in 40 years

  • Children under ten will be offered polio booster vaccines after a national incident was declared in June
  • Polio can paralyse or even kill and experts suggest it’s spreading because of sewage samples
  • By the age of two nearly 95 per cent of children have had the five doses of the vaccine but this drops to below 90 per cent in London 

Children under ten in London are set to be offered polio booster vaccines after the virus returned to the UK for the first time in 40 years.

Health chiefs declared a national incident in June after samples of the virus, which in the worst cases can paralyse or even kill, were found at a waste water site in London.

A major drive is now expected to be launched by the UK Health and Security Agency to ensure children are vaccinated or receive a booster in the capital.

An announcement about the vaccine rollout is expected this week, including details on which areas will be targeted. It is understood that children aged one to nine in Greater London will be offered boosters.

There have been no confirmed cases of polio in patients in Britain so far – but experts have suggested it has been passing from person to person because of the amount of poliovirus samples in sewage.

Children should have five doses of the vaccine between the ages of eight weeks and 14.

By the age of two, almost 95 per cent of UK children have had the correct number of doses.

Children aged one to nine in Greater London will be offered polio boosters as the virus spreads (file image)

Children aged one to nine in Greater London will be offered polio boosters as the virus spreads (file image)

But this drops to just under 90 per cent in London. When it comes to the pre-school booster, just 71 per cent of children in the capital have had it by the age of five. 

A public health source told the Daily Mirror last night: ‘They are trying to nip this in the bud. It is precautionary but it is a horrible bug.

‘They are offering all children aged one to nine additional doses, regardless of where they are in their course. 

‘No cases have been found, but sewage samples suggest community transmission is taking place.’

The virus was detected at the Beckton sewage treatment works, which covers a population of four million in north and east London.

It is normal for sampling to detect one-off traces of poliovirus in sewage each year, but officials said a sample identified in April was genetically linked to one first seen in February which persisted and mutated into a ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus, which is more like the ‘wild’ type that can cause serious symptoms.

Most people who contract polio do not have symptoms and will fight off the infection without realising they had it. 

Some will experience flu-like symptoms, such as high temperature, sore throat, headache, stomach pain, aching muscles, and sickness. 

In up to one in 100 cases, the virus attacks the nerves in the spine and base of the brain.

A series of polio epidemics rocked the UK during the early 1950s, with as many as 7,000 left paralysed each year.

The epidemics ended with the introduction of the oral polio vaccine in 1962 and Britain was pronounced clear of polio in 2003.

The UK uses an inactivated polio vaccine, which is given as part of a combined jab to babies, toddlers and teenagers as part of the NHS childhood vaccination schedule.

Those who have oral polio vaccines, which have not been used in the UK since 2004, can shed the vaccine virus in their faeces several weeks after vaccination. 

These viruses can spread and mutate in under-protected communities. The current scare has been linked to oral vaccines which are still used abroad.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘The risk to the public from the poliovirus recently detected in London sewage is very low, but it’s important that anyone not up to date with polio vaccinations contacts their GP.

‘Most of the UK population will be protected by vaccination in childhood but it’s clear that vaccine-derived poliovirus could potentially spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.’

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