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Gov. Hochul declares polio a State Disaster Emergency in effort to boost vaccination rate

Even while rates in the Buffalo area are near or above the state average of 79%, the Department of Health wants those numbers to pass 90%.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As polio makes its return to New York State, Gov. Kathy Hochul is putting an emphasis on boosting the state's vaccination rates by now allowing pharmacists, midwives and EMS workers to administer the vaccine. It's an addition that Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of Infectious Diseases at the University at Buffalo, believes is a game changer.

"That will also hopefully increase surveillance for polio. And combined with then getting our vaccination rates where they need to be this will help us in this ongoing outbreak," Russo said.

Within Buffalo's surrounding counties we're seeing a wide range of numbers, spanning from 73% in Orleans all the way 88% in Erie County. Even while rates are near or above the state average of 79%, the Department of Health wants those numbers to pass 90%.

“The Polio vaccine is highly efficacious, 99% plus. So if we could get everyone vaccinated, we will stuff polio and end this ongoing outbreak," Russo said. 

An outbreak began after the disease resurfaced in New York for the first time in a decade this July in Rockland county. It was later detected in wastewater and has now spread to the surrounding Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties. 

It's keeping many New Yorkers on red alert because most who are infected with polio don't realize it as 75% of cases are asymptomatic, but more troubling, between 2-10% of those who get it die and 1% of cases cause someone to be paralyzed. 

"This is a wake up call for the state of New York. There is an ongoing outbreak of polio downstate, as evidenced by positive samples and wastewater. And we need to put the lid on this," Russo said.

Polio was all but eradicated worldwide in the 1970's because of the vaccine and Dr. Russo says we can do the same thing now by taking the virus seriously and simply getting vaccinated.

"If we pull together and if everyone does this, then we'll put an end to this particular outbreak," Russo said. 

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