BOSTON - Polio was all but eradicated in the United States by the 1970s. The discovery and widespread use of the vaccine stopped the spread.
But now it's back.
"The fact that we are seeing even a single case of polio shows that we are not as well-protected as we should be," Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, told WBZ-TV's I-Team.
This summer, after a case of polio was discovered in New York, surveillance testing of wastewater found the disease in two separate counties. That prompted New York Governor Kathy Hochul to declare an emergency to start pushing unvaccinated people to get the shot.
Folks at the Immigrant Families Services Institute in Mattapan say convincing people to vaccinate their kids takes education and trust.
Andrelienne Victor just had twins and thinks her seven-year-old son does not need any vaccines. She told the I-Team through an interpreter that she has not heard of the polio vaccine and is concerned about the impact it might have on her son's health.
Dr. Geralde Gabeau, the Executive Director at IFSI, says that worry is pretty common for many newcomers. He says there is hesitancy for all vaccines, including polio, which many see as not a real threat for people here.
The state of Massachusetts requires students to be vaccinated against polio and a host of other diseases. But the I-Team found at some elementary schools in Boston that kids are not fully protected against polio.
Data from the Maurice Tobin School in Roxbury shows that 50% of students have not received all the necessary polio shots. At six other schools, more than 25% are lacking full immunizations.
"If people are not vaccinated fully against polio there's always the possibility that the epidemic can return and cause the tragic complications that we occasionally see with it," Dr. Kuritzkes said.
New York is hoping to avoid an epidemic by testing wastewater and getting people vaccinated. Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Health tells the I-Team it does not test wastewater for polio or any other serious illnesses. But it does monitor COVID.
Dr. Kuritzkes says it would be a good idea to expand the monitoring that is being done and test the water and sewage as a way of seeing what is circulating in the community.
In a statement, Boston Public Schools told the I-Team:
"Boston Public Schools places the health and well-being of our students and staff at the top of our list of priorities. BPS will continue to follow the Massachusetts Department of Public Health immunization requirements for school entry, utilizing current systems, like the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, to obtain vaccination records for our students. We continue to work with our partners to provide referrals to families, increase access to appropriate health care, and find the best scientific, data-driven approach to address public health matters and keep our students and staff safe. BPS cannot comment on the nature of student vaccine exemptions due to privacy concerns."
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