GP practices likely to spearhead polio booster campaign for all children in London aged 1-9

All children aged between one and nine in Greater London are to be offered a polio booster jab in a campaign likely to be spearheaded by GP practices after traces of the disease were found in sewage.

Polio vaccine
Polio booster jabs will be offered to children in London (Photo: Manjurul/Getty Images)

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that at least one positive sample of the poliovirus had been found in sewage in the boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended an urgent, targeted vaccination campaign aimed at children under 10, prioritising areas where the virus is present. Parents have been advised that they will be contacted by the NHS when their child’s turn to get the vaccine comes up.

The UKHSA confirmed to GPonline that, while approaches to vaccinations might vary from borough to borough, jabs would predominantly be provided by GP practices. NHS England said it had no further information on how vaccinations would be rolled out at the present time.

Risk to public is low

The UKHSA stressed that there have been no confirmed cases of polio and the risk to the wider population is low.

The booster programme will start with the areas where the poliovirus has been detected and vaccination rates are low and followed by a rapid rollout across all boroughs, according to the UKHSA. The JCVI has recommended that it should begin 'as soon as possible'.

The polio booster will be in addition to the NHS childhood vaccination catch-up campaign that is currently taking place across London and will cover all children aged one to nine, including those whose vaccinations are up to date.

The UKHSA said it believed there had been some level of virus transmission in affected boroughs, which may extend to adjacent areas and that transmission has gone beyond a close network of a few individuals.

The NHS in London said it was already 'reaching out' to parents and carers of children whose vaccinations were not up to date and advising them they could book a catch-up appointment at their practice.

The JCVI has also recommended that changes to the childhood immunisations schedule, that were not due to come into effect until 2025, should be introduced in London after the polio booster campaign has been completed. The change would see the Hib/MenC vaccine, which is being discontinued by the manufacturer, replaced with an additional dose of the hexavalent vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) at either at 12 or 18 months.

The JCVI said this would 'address the potential polio immunity gap' and 'ensure continued protection of future cohorts of toddlers'.

Polio vaccination

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said that no cases of polio had been reported and for the majority of the population, who are fully vaccinated, the risk was low. 

She said: ‘But we know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates. This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk.

'Polio is a serious infection that can cause paralysis but nationally the overall risk is considered low because most people are protected by vaccination.'

Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London said: 'While the majority of Londoners are protected from polio, the NHS will shortly be contacting parents of eligible children aged one to nine years old to offer them a top-up dose to ensure they have maximum protection from the virus.

'We are already reaching out to parents and carers of children who aren’t up to date with their routine vaccinations, who can book a catch-up appointment with their GP surgery now.'

JCVI recommended vaccines
The JCVI has recommended that the following vaccines are used for the booster campaign:
  • Children aged 1 to under 3 years 4 months should be offered the hexavalent (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) vaccine (both Infanrix Hexa and Vaxelis can be used).
  • Children aged 3 years 4 months up to and including 5 year olds should be offered Boostrix-IPV (dTaP/IPV).
  • Children aged 6 to 9 years should be offered Revaxis (Td/IPV).

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