Decades ago, Israel joined a global effort to eradicate the polio virus, and for years it appeared that campaign had been successful. Now, polio has returned, and Israel is preparing to inoculate more than one million children to ensure the debilitating condition finds no more victims in the Holy Land.
On Sunday, 1,000 children's clinics across Israel began administering an oral vaccination to children born after January 1, 2004.
Israelis still receive a polio vaccination as babies, but until now a dead sample of the virus was used. The new vaccinations use a significantly weakened live polio virus. The vaccination received as infants will protect the children from the live strain in the new vaccination, and, because it is still alive, that weakened strain will also spread to those around.
From the one million children inoculated, the vaccine is expected to spread to the entire population. Health Ministry officials stressed that while there was nothing to fear from the vaccine, the renewed polio threat is very real.
It is believed that the resurgent virus first made a comeback in Egypt last December. From there is crossed the border to the Bedouin community living in southern Israel. Now, it has been found in patients across southern Israel and into the populous coastal plain.
"The danger from this disease is real and imminent, and is not expected to disappear if the children go unvaccinated," warned a Health Ministry statement.