The case was found in Rockland County, which has a staggeringly low polio vaccination rate. dr. José Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, noted that the majority of people with polio have no symptoms and thus can spread the virus without knowing it.
“There are a number of individuals in the community who are infected with the polio virus. They are spreading the virus,” he said. “The spread is always a possibility because the spread will be quiet.”
A team of CDC disease detectives traveled from its Atlanta headquarters to Rockland County last week, and they are “quite nervous” that polio “could get out of hand very quickly and we could have a crisis on our hands,” said one community health service. leader who met the team.
“They are — what’s the opposite of cautiously optimistic?” said another community leader, a vaccine education expert, who also met with the CDC team in Rockland County. Both leaders asked for anonymity as they are not authorized to speak in public.
Polio can cause incurable paralysis and death, but most people in the US are protected through vaccination. However, others may be vulnerable to the virus for various reasons.
“We are investigating all aspects of how to deal with this. At the moment we don’t have a definitive answer,” he said.
A ‘silent killer’
The Rockland County polio case is the first identified in the United States in nearly a decade.
Much of the rest of Rockland County’s religious Jewish community has joined efforts to educate the “outliers” who refuse to vaccinate, the community health leader said.
“This is a silent killer, like carbon monoxide, and we don’t know when it will hit us,” she said.
‘You can’t make it with a press release’
The vaccine educator said the CDC team planned to learn the best ways to communicate with members of this community, who tend not to use the Internet, and instead get much of their information from the messaging platform WhatsApp and community newspapers. to get.
The Rockland County vaccine educator said that in meetings with the CDC team, “we talked about the need for messages that resonate, and a press release won’t cut it.”
dr. Mary Leahy, CEO of the largest health care provider in Rockland County, Bon Secours Charity Health System, a member of WMCHealth, has attended meetings with the CDC and said that to help people who do not vaccinate their children against polio understand the severity of the disease. “I turn to the grandparents and the great-grandparents who actually lived through the days of polio in the 1940s and 50s.”
That makes sense for Romero.
“I grew up in Mexico. I’ve seen this disease, the complications,” he said. “I went to school with children who had braces.”
He said many Americans fail to recognize the “devastating” effects of polio’s “lifetime paralysis.”
“I think most of the American public has never seen a case of polio. People have lost that fear of the disease, if you will.”
Danielle Herman and John Bonifield of CNN contributed to this report.