Polio vaccination: WHO targets 23m children in 5 African countries

Polio vaccine

A medic administers a polio vaccine to a child in Mandera in May 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

More than 80 million doses of polio vaccines will be administered to more than 23 million children under the age of five in the four-round vaccination drive in five southern African countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Friday.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that can result in permanent paralysis.

According to the WHO, the countries earmarked for the exercise are Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The campaign happens after Malawi--which launches the first round of vaccination tomorrow (Sunday) -- declared an outbreak on 17 February.

The outbreak was the first such case in the country in 30 years, and the first in Africa since the region was certified free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2020.

“In support of Malawi and its neighbours, we are acting fast to halt this outbreak and extinguish the threat through effective vaccinations” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said.

 “The African region has already defeated wild poliovirus due to a monumental effort by countries. We have the know-how and are tirelessly working to ensure that every child lives and thrives in a continent free of polio”, she added.

The first phase of the campaign targets 9.4 million children in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.

Three subsequent rounds—in which Zimbabwe will also take part—are set for April, June and July and aim to reach over 23 million children with more than 80 million doses of the bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine recommended by the WHO for wild poliovirus (type 1).

Mass vaccinations, or supplementary vaccinations, aim to interrupt the circulation of poliovirus by immunising every child under five years with oral polio vaccine regardless of previous immunization status.

The objective is to reach children who are either not immunised, or only partially protected, and to boost immunity in those who have been vaccinated.

Supplementary immunisation is intended to complement— not replace — routine inoculation, the WHO added in a statement.