A polio vaccine catch-up campaign is to be launched in London this summer amid low childhood immunisation rates in some boroughs, public officials have announced.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said its sewage testing suggested community transmission of the virus has ‘significantly reduced’.
However, it said vaccination rates across some areas of the capital were ‘still too low’.
A catch-up campaign will therefore be launched by the NHS in London, offering polio jabs as well as other routine childhood vaccinations including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
Unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated children aged one to 11 will be able to receive vaccinations throughout the summer term at primary school and community clinics.
The UKHSA said there will be a ‘particular focus’ on supporting communities with the lowest levels of vaccine uptake.
This comes after routine surveillance between February and May last year found several closely related polio viruses in sewage samples at the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.
Further sampling had found the virus had continued to spread in the community and evolved into vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2) – which carries the risk of serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated.
In August 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the UK had a ‘circulating’ VDPV2.
But last week the UKHSA said that sewage sample testing had found no further VDPV2 isolates since early November, suggesting that transmission has been significantly reduced in the capital.
However, the risk from virus still remains as the WHO requires evidence of 12 months of zero detections before the UK can cease to be considered a polio ‘infected’ country.
Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London, said: ‘The risk to children who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated against polio continues to be a focus for the NHS in London, so they have protection against serious illness.’
Vaccination rates in London are lower than the rest fof the country with only 87.6% of children receiving all of their polio vaccinations before they turn one, compared with 92.1% in England as a whole.
Data also shows that uptake for the pre-school booster for children up to five years old is even lower, with only 69.9% of children in London receiving this vaccination, compared with 83.4% in England.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘While there are early signs of reduced spread of the poliovirus in London, we need to continue to improve uptake of childhood vaccines in all communities. Until we reach every last child, we cannot be sure that we will not see a case of paralysis.
‘Even a single case of paralysis from polio would be a tragedy as it is completely preventable. Only by improving vaccination coverage across all communities can we ensure resilience against future disease threats.’