How New York Plans To Deal With Its Polio Emergency Before It Spreads Elsewhere

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency on Friday, September 9, 2022, amid growing concerns of a polio outbreak. According to NBC News, the poliovirus has been detected in wastewater in multiple counties across the state, including New York City, Orange County, Nassau County, Rockland County, and Sullivan County, most of which have relatively low polio vaccination rates. The first polio case in more than a decade was identified in Rockland in July after an unvaccinated man was diagnosed with paralytic polio.

Health officials have confirmed that the man was infected with vaccine-derived polio, a strain of polio derived from a live virus. This comes from an oral polio vaccine that is no longer administered in the U.S. After the oral polio vaccine is administered, the live virus can be shed to those in communities with low vaccination rates and spread of among those who are still unvaccinated. While the poliovirus detected in Nassau, Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties were all genetically linked to the paralytic case, the strain of the virus detected in New York City is not.

Declaring a state of emergency can improve vaccination rates

Although only one paralytic polio case has been identified thus far, there may be more cases of nonparalytic polio that have gone undetected, according to state health officials. That's because most cases of polio do not cause paralysis. In fact, many people infected with polio will not show any symptoms at all, which can allow the virus to spread undetected (via Healthline). Those who do become severely ill, however, can develop paralysis in the arms and legs. As a result, the New York State Health Department is responding urgently and aggressively to increase polio vaccinations.

According to Healthline, declaring a state of emergency will require healthcare providers to send polio vaccination data to the state health department. It will also allow EMTs, pharmacists, and midwives, among others, to administer polio vaccinations to those who are still unvaccinated. "The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. "Polio is entirely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us."