Polio immunisation to kick-off in October 

A pupil of Kitante Primary School in Kampala receives a measles, rubella and polio vaccine during the nationwide immunisation campaign on October 16, 2019.  PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

The Ministry of Health has said mass polio vaccination is the only way to evade major outbreak and shield children from the crippling disease in the country.

This comes a day after experts in the ministry said the infectious strain of polio dubbed ‘circulating vaccine derived polio virus type 2 (cVDPV2),’ which has caused the new polio disease outbreak in the country, came from vaccines. 

A vaccine derived polio virus is a strain of the weakened poliovirus that was initially included in oral polio vaccine (OPV) and that has changed over time and behaves more like the infectious virus, according to the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr Immaculate Ampaire, the deputy manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (Unepi), told Daily Monitor yesterday that the vaccine is the only way to protect the children from the strain and prevent a major outbreak.

“We have to immunise the children so that even if the strain is there, they are not susceptible [to it]. The oral (attenuated) polio vaccine is the only vaccine that has capacity to confer immunity in the intestines of children, and also has capacity to interrupt an outbreak,” Dr Ampaire said. 

The attenuated vaccine has live but weakened polio viruses that have capacity to stimulate immunity against the disease once injected in the body.

Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director general of health services, said in communities with low immunisation rates, the virus is spread from one unvaccinated child to another over a long period of time, usually between 12-18 months.

“[As the virus spreads], it can mutate and take on a form that can cause paralysis just like the wild poliovirus. This mutated poliovirus can then spread in communities, leading to cVDPVs,” he said.

Dr Ampaire said the country was expecting 21.9 million doses of polio vaccines from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to interrupt the major outbreak of the crippling disease.

“The vaccines will be administered in two rounds, in the first round, about 11 million doses will be used, and this will be followed by second round for boosting [immunity],” she said. 

Dr Mwebesa said nationwide vaccination of all children aged five years or below will take place in October and December.

“…health workers will visit house to house and vaccinate all children aged five years or below against polio. Parents and guardians are encouraged to ensure that all children under the age of five years are fully immunised as per the country’s routine immunisation schedule,” he said.

Dr Mwebesa said earlier that “identification of a cVDPV2 from the environment in Uganda confirms that there are persons in the Kampala area shedding the disease.

“In the context of low immunity against type 2 [polio virus], cases already being reported from the neighbouring countries and weak surveillance systems; a large scale polio outbreak with a potential for spreading fast is imminent.” 

The statistics from the ministry indicate that 2.2 million children do not have protection against type 2 polio because the vaccines against it were removed from routine immunisation in 2016 after the World was declared free of it. 

Dr Mwebesa also said earlier that due to low vaccine coverage/uptake, up to 4.6 million children who are below five years are at high risk of contracting the virus. 

He said as high as 959 cases of cVDPV2 were confirmed globally last year, and that about 20 countries in the continent have cases of the virus.

There is no cure for polio, but vaccines, which are given multiple times, can protect a child for life, according to the World Health Organisation.

The ministry also said they have heightened disease surveillance. It appealed to the public to report children under 15 years with sudden onset of paralysis or weaknesses in the arms or legs. 

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