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Health Officials Discuss Concerns About Polio, Monkeypox

Chautauqua County’s Board of Health discusses concerns about those who aren’t vaccinated for things like polio. Pictured from left: Board President Dr. Lillian Ney, Sherri Rater, Public Health Director Christine Schuyler, and board member Dr. Tariq Khan. P-J photo by Gregory Bacon

MAYVILLE – Vaccine hesitancy remains an issue locally as well as nationally.

And it’s not just the COVID-19 vaccine either.

During the recent Chautauqua County Board of Health meeting, board members discussed about the need of vaccine for things like polio and monkeypox.

In Rockland County, there was one confirmed case of polio. Wastewater surveillance has shown polio in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties as well as New York City.

“They prove evidence that the unvaccinated individual Rockland County resident, with the paralytic polio, contracted the virus through local transmission, not abroad and not international,” explained Christine Schuyler, public health director. “One way to prevent this is to get immunized.”

Schuyler said since the announcement that polio has been discovered in the state, her office has received calls from adults wanting to get the vaccine. “Right now there is no recommendation for this polio, so payers aren’t paying for it,” she said.

Board of Health member Dr. Tariq Khan said he talked to a school superintendent about school-aged students who haven’t been vaccinated. “There’s a large number of families who are home schooling because the kids are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated. The number is amazing,” he said, not identifying the number of students or the school leader.

According to the state Department of Health website, vaccines for polio, diphtheria and tetanus, pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), and measles, mumps and rubella, are all required for children attending day care and pre-K through 12th grade in New York state. This includes all public, private, and religious schools. A medical exemption is allowed when a child has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving a vaccine. There are no non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements in the state.

Health Board President Dr. Lillian Ney expressed her concern that there may be parents who didn’t get their children vaccines during COVID and need to catch up before they enroll them in school. She noted how the legislature rejected a $75,000 grant earlier this year that was to be used to educate parents and others about the importance of vaccines.

Khan said he believes parents who want to get their children vaccinated are doing so; he’s concerned about the parents who won’t let their children get vaccines.

County Physician Dr. Robert Berke shared a story about someone he knew in college whose parents wouldn’t let him get vaccinated when he was younger. While in college, the young man went on a missions trip to Mexico. “He came back on crutches, paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life,” he said.

Berke said it’s important for parents to realize the impact their decision can have on their child’s life. “These parents think they’re being real smart now. They forget when the kid is 17, 18, 19, mobile and goes on some missionary trip or some trip traveling someplace and comes back with a ‘gift that keeps on giving.’ This is what they don’t understand,” he said.

Schuyler said there sections of the Amish population that will let their children get vaccinated but some of the older residents still refuse to do so.

MONKEYPOX

Schuyler said their office has received a limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine. She said they are reaching out to those in high risk populations, to see if they want it. That includes Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s website, data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up the majority of cases in the current monkeypox outbreak. However, anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk.

Schuyler said when someone has monkeypox, it can spread through close contact, bedding, fabrics and towels. “It’s important people ask their sexual partners whether they have a rash or have any symptoms and be cognizant of who they are close with,” she said.

The county has had a number of people who received testing for monkeypox, but at this point, there are no positive cases in the county.

Khan noted how there isn’t enough vaccine for everyone at this time. “I think we are all holding our collective breaths and hoping that monkeypox doesn’t get out of control until we have enough vaccine supply,” he said.

Schuyler noted how there is still a lot of distrust among certain segments of the population when it comes to vaccine.

She shared a story about a conversation she had with a person who said they don’t trust health officials, the government or what’s being reported. “We do have a lot of work to do and it’s not just us. It’s going to have to come from healthcare providers and trusted leaders that really get on the bandwagon to help us stop this,” Schuyler said.

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