Polio Vaccinations Coming to South Sudan

Inactivated polio vaccine is given in the USA
young african children in village
Africa (Vax Before Travel)

A campaign aimed at vaccinating 1.5 million children against polio was recently launched in South Sudan, located in northern Africa.

Currently, 15 cases of vaccine-derived poliomyelitis are confirmed in seven counties across five states, namely Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Western Bahr El Ghazal, Warrap, Lakes, and Eastern Equatoria. The reported cases are children under five years of age who now have irreversible paralysis, announced the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 13, 2020.

As the number of confirmed cases has continued to rise in the last few weeks, the campaign will target children in seven states and 45 counties in the first round. 

In order to stop the outbreak and prevent further spread, the South Sudan Ministry of Health formed an emergency task force comprising of WHO, UNICEF, and other partners to quickly make necessary arrangements for the response while increasing surveillance efforts respecting basic infection prevention and control measures.

The only way of stopping the spread and prevent more children from catching the potentially deadly virus is through immunization. 

Follow-up campaigns covering more states and counties are planned. Ahead and during the campaigns, social mobilizers will engage communities and key stakeholders to increase awareness of immunization and participation in the campaign.

“We need to move fast to stop this outbreak from harming more children,” said Minister of Health Hon Elizabeth Achue, in a press statement. “I urge all parents to take their children for polio vaccination including those who have already been vaccinated. It is safe to receive an additional dose and we want to make sure every child is protected.”

Less than 50 percent of children in South Sudan are immunized against polio and other life-threatening diseases, putting them at risk of life-long disability and death. Widespread displacement and continual population movements compounded with COVID-19 restrictions, have further aggravated the country’s immunization coverage and have exacerbated children’s vulnerability to poliovirus, especially those in hard-to-reach areas.

“No child anywhere should suffer from Polio a completely preventable disease”, said Dr. Olushayo Olu, WHO Representative for South Sudan. “Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and flooding sweeping much of the country, the campaign provides greater opportunity for vulnerable populations to receive critical interventions that could avert life-threatening diseases such as disability from poliomyelitis”.

On August 25, 2020, South Sudan along with other African countries was declared polio-free as there had not been any outbreaks of wild poliovirus in the country for more than ten years. This milestone was only possible due to an effective and safe vaccine and the commitment from parents, other caregivers, and health workers. This commitment needs to continue to keep every child protected.

“Immunization is a must and complacency can kill,” says Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF South Sudan Representative. We must ensure all children in South Sudan are taken for routine immunization which includes the polio vaccine, so this doesn’t happen again when the outbreak is curbed. There is a lot of love in every needle prick, that is how we are protecting the next generation.”

While rare, vaccine-derived polioviruses cases can occur when the weakened live virus in the oral polio vaccine passes among under-immunized populations and, over time, changes to a form that can cause paralysis. If a population is adequately immunized with polio vaccines, it will be protected from both wild polio and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses.

Currently, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Zambia, and South Sudan are currently experiencing cVDPV2 outbreaks, which can occur in under-immunized communities.

Previously, the U.S. CDC issued a Travel Alert on November 12, 2020, stating: There are vaccine-derived polio outbreaks in many countries in Africa.  Although wild-type polio was eradicated in Africa in 2020, vaccine-derived poliovirus is causing outbreaks in places where vaccination rates are low.

The CDC recommends that before traveling to the identified countries, adults who completed their routine polio vaccine series as children should receive a single, lifetime adult booster dose of polio vaccine.

Since 2000, the inactivated polio vaccine is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the USA, while the oral polio vaccine is offered in other countries.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes research-based travel news.