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Dutch Bible Belt Polio Scare Sends Thousands To Health Clinics

September 24, 1992 GMT

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Several local health authorities ran out of polio vaccine after the country’s first case of polio in 15 years was reported.

Local health center switchboards were jammed by anxious callers Wednesday.

The case is said to involve a 14-year-old boy from a strict Dutch Reformed Church family that rejected polio inoculations on religious grounds.

The virus is reported to have also been detected in four of the infected boy’s 10 family members, although they apparently have not shown any symptoms.

Health officials have launched an inoculation campaign and are targeting fundamentalist Christian communities where people have resisted vaccination on religious grounds, the national newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported.

″We’ve had hundreds of calls from people who say they were brought up in a religious environment and are afraid they may never have had the shots,″ said a spokeswoman for the Rotterdam city health department.

Universal polio vaccination was introduced in the 1960s but about 10 percent of the population has slipped through the net because of religious objections, according to the Health Ministry.

The Netherlands has several strict Reformed Church communities where it is believed that diseases like polio are acts of God and that artificial attempts to prevent infection go against God’s will.

Since the introduction of the vaccine, the highest incidence of polio has consistently been in areas of strict religious observance.

In 1971, five people died of the disease in one such village, Staphorst, which is a byword in the Netherlands for extreme fundamentalist Christianity.

The last Dutch polio outbreak, in 1978, struck a narrow band across the Dutch Bible belt.

Polio, which is transmitted via the spittle or excrement of infected persons, can lead to permanent paralysis and even death in very young children.