State officials Wednesday declared the polio virus an "imminent threat to public health," expanding funding sources for health departments on Long Island and statewide for immunization clinics and outreach to get more New Yorkers vaccinated.
The declaration, by state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, enables municipalities to work closely with the state Department of Health's Office of Public Health Practice to claim reimbursement for vaccine-related health care, and retroactively covers poliovirus response activities from July 21 through Dec. 31, 2022.
"From day one, we've taken an aggressive public health approach to combat the spread of polio and ensure New Yorkers are protected," Gov. Kathy Hochul said. "This declaration will bolster our ongoing efforts to protect New Yorkers against paralytic disease, prevent spread, and support our public health partners."
It was not immediately clear how much state funding and resources could be heading to Nassau and Suffolk.
Earlier this month, polio virus was detected in wastewater samples taken from North Hempstead, the first trace of the once-eradicated disease in Nassau, state and local officials said.
The virus has been identified in wastewater collected from sewers in Glenwood Landing, Manhasset, Port Washington, Roslyn and surrounding areas, county officials said.
Nassau is the fifth county where CDC testing has found traces of the virus, joining New York City as well as Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties.
The state will reimburse local health departments at 50% of the cost of emergency response measures approved by the state health department, officials said. But those dollars may be available only after all federal and state aid, as well as other forms of aid that might become available, have been expended, departments officials said.
"The department is working effectively to increase childhood and community vaccination rates in counties where the virus has been detected," Bassett said. "Thanks to long-established school immunization requirements, the vast majority of adults, and most children, are fully vaccinated against polio."
From July 21, when the first New York case of polio in nearly a decade was detected in a Rockland County man, through Sept. 25, approximately 26,000 polio vaccine doses have been administered to children 18 years and younger in Nassau, Orange, Rockland and Sullivan counties — a 26% increase compared to the same time period in 2021, officials said.
Polio, which was declared eradicated in the United States in 1979 after mass vaccination efforts, can be a serious and debilitating illness that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis in some cases. A majority of the cases are mild, experts say.
Health officials say the unvaccinated, including children 2 months of age and older, those who are pregnant, and people who have not completed their polio vaccine series previously, should get immunized right away.