In the last week, the World Health Organization confirmed that three children— two in Ukraine and one in Mali— were paralyzed from circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV). Though the Ukraine and Mali cases are unrelated, the root cause was failure to vaccinate children, leaving large populations of unprotected kids in these areas.
Over the last few years, gaps in vaccination coverage like this have persisted in places like Ukraine and Mali – along with neighboring Guinea, where the cVDPV strain seen in Mali is believed to have originated. In 2014, only half of children in Ukraine were fully immunized against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. This number has dropped further this year, with only 14% of one-year-olds having received the polio vaccine. Similarly, Guinea’s polio vaccination coverage fell from 63% to 42% in 2014, due partly to the Ebola outbreak. While Mali has maintained relatively high vaccination coverage, gaps remain in some areas of the country.
An outbreak response is underway in coordination with the governments in all three of the affected countries (Ukraine, Mali and Guinea), which will include at least three large-scale immunization campaigns to reach all children under the age of five with vaccine. Campaigns like these have been able to effectively stamp out outbreaks of both cVDPV and wild poliovirus (WPV) in recent years, and the program has the knowledge and the expertise to respond quickly. These recent cases serve as a reminder that in order to stop all polioviruses, it’s critical that countries maintain strong disease surveillance and ensure all children are vaccinated. And most importantly they're a reminder that until we eradicate polio once and for all there is always a threat that it can come back. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to eradication, but the polio program requires the support of governments at all levels, the international community and partners to ensure the job is finished.
Responding to an outbreak isn’t easy, but the polio program has a system in partnership with country governments to ensure that when there is an outbreak they are stopped quickly.