We are paying the price for treating children like second class citizens

The relentless battle against Covid has led to an almost complacent attitude towards other diseases, including Polio

😄😞😦 Suspected community polio transmission, however limited, is a significant step backwards for public health in our country. Polio is a serious disease which is highly infectious, and sadly mainly affects children. It can invade the nervous system, causing paralysis in as many as 1 in 200 cases. For a smaller number, the disease can be fatal following a failure of the breathing muscles. It’s been almost totally eradicated, only remaining endemic in a tiny number of countries - a public health success story which is only sustained through trust and vaccination. 

😄😞😦 I’m confident that this situation in northeast London will be contained, but it should act as a wakeup call. The unremitting focus on Covid at the expense of every other disease was a historic mistake. Polio vaccination rates, although high, have been falling. Worryingly, they are lower in London where the traces have been located. School closures have also detrimentally affected booster take-up. The relentless battle against Covid has led to an almost complacent attitude towards other diseases - they have not gone away and we need to be as vigilant as ever. 

😄😞😦 If you are reading this and for whatever reason your child is not up to date with their vaccinations, I urge you to contact your GP as soon as possible to resolve the matter. Polio vaccines are safe, effective and have been used for decades with great success, offering life-long protection against a horrific disease. 

😄😞😦 That message is one of many which should have been drilled into the population alongside the pandemic communications. Government ministers held literally hundreds of press conferences, at times seemingly just for the sake of it, and I could count on one hand the number of times non-Covid conditions were mentioned. A reminder for routine childhood vaccinations? Not one.

😄😞😦 I remember discussions over and over about the substantialness of a scotch egg following hospitality reopening. Politicians spent hours attempting to justify increasingly ludicrous rules, whilst ignoring real issues which would go on to cause untold suffering. 

😄😞😦 Awareness is vital, even a few gentle reminders would have pushed vaccination rates in the right direction. At Doctorcall, we have been responsible for vaccinating more people against influenza than anybody outside the NHS - we try to understand people’s fears and motivations. Forgetting a small minority who will never take any vaccine, there is a significant proportion of the population who just don’t get round to it or have legitimate concerns which can be answered. 

😄😞😦 However, it seems likely the shortfall of polio vaccines administered is not part of some wider anti-vaccination sentiment but a failure of central public health communication - a symptom of a far wider problem. Would this polio scare have occurred without the pandemic? Impossible to say, but undoubtedly fewer people have protection against the disease because of our response to Covid.

😄😞😦  Unlike many, I’m sympathetic towards our pandemic decision-makers. Shouldering that level of responsibility is not something I envy, however I cannot fathom how more attention has not been placed on the non-Covid health consequences of lockdown. Perhaps it’s difficult for politicians to acknowledge the appalling repercussions of policies they put in place. Politics is not the arena in which to show weakness, however constructive that might prove to be. Whether it’s falling polio vaccination rates, undiagnosed cancers, soaring obesity or a swelling mental health epidemic - I fear it’s all going to get worse before it gets better. 

😄😞😦 With a targeted vaccination awareness campaign, Polio will once again be effectively conquered, but the same can’t be said for hundreds of other non-Covid health conditions which have been so brutally neglected since March 2020. So much of public health is rooted in effective communication - even the most fervent defenders of restrictions must accept that the messaging, or lack of it, has caused vast and irreparable damage.