Fighting polio in the COVID-19 context

Reaching every child with life-saving vaccines to #ENDPolio

Badges for volunteer vaccinators
08 September 2020

Africa recently achieved the status of being certified free of wild poliovirus.  Wild polio is just one of the three strains of the deadly virus, and the declaration of being certified wild polio free is a laudable achievement and thanks to the persistent commitment of governments, international organizations, health workers, parents and community leaders who have worked together to tackle this disease. 

Unfortunately, the fight against polio is far from over. Another strain of the virus – type 2 - continues to spread across 16 African countries, including Ghana, and has paralysed more than 170 children this year. Between July 2019 and August 2020, a total of 31 children have been paralysed in Ghana due to polio.

Outbreaks of polio are more likely to occur in communities where there are unimmunized children and coupled with poor sanitary and hygiene environments.  

To address this, several teams of health volunteers - led by Ghana Health Service are preparing to immunize children against polio across eights regions of Ghana: Ashanti, Eastern, Volta, Central, Western, Western North, Upper West and Greater Accra.  A total number of just over 4.5 million children have been targeted for both rounds of immunization The Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service are supported by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners which include UNICEF, World Health Organization, US - Center for Disease Control (CDC Ghana Office), and Rotary International.

The first round runs from 10th – 13th September and another round scheduled for October.  

This is the first time the campaign will resume since the outbreak of COVID-19. All protective measures have been taken to ensure a safe vaccination exercise in the context of COVID-19.  The vaccinators will be equipped with face masks, alcohol sanitizers and will ensure social distancing is being maintained during the vaccination process. 

Caregivers are encouraged to ensure their children under five years old are available for polio vaccination between 10 -13 September and 8-11 October anywhere the vaccination teams may be, so that Africa can see an end to all types of polio – once and for all.

A child receives doses of the polio vaccine in the Northern Region
A child receives doses of the polio vaccine in the Northern Region.
A baby's finger is marked after receiving the polio vaccine
A baby's finger is marked after receiving the polio vaccine in the Greater Accra Region.

Quick 5 facts:

  1. What is polio?

Polio is a viral disease that is transmitted mainly from person to person, mainly through a faecal-oral route. While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through the administration of a vaccine. If a population is fully immunized, they will be protected against all forms of polioviruses.

  1. How many doses of OPV does a child need to be fully protected from polio?

A child should receive three doses of OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine -oral drops to the mouth) and one dose of IPV (injection) according to the National Immunization Schedule. This should provide a child with lifelong protection against polio. During the outbreaks of polio, all children, regardless of their vaccination status, should receive several doses of polio vaccine during the supplementary immunization activities (e.g. polio vaccination campaign).

  1. What if my child has already had OPV? Is it safe to give multiple doses of OPV to children?

Yes, it is safe. In fact, a child should receive several doses of polio vaccine to develop immunity against polio virus. Any additional dose of polio vaccine will strengthen the protection of a child against poliovirus.

  1. Should a child receive OPV during a polio campaign and routine immunization?

Yes, your child should receive all required doses of polio vaccination as per national immunization schedule and during the mass vaccination campaigns to stop polio outbreaks. It is safe for a child to receive multiple doses of the polio vaccine. It will provide a stronger immunity (protection) against polio.

  1. Is there a cure for polio?

No, there is no cure for polio. Polio can only be prevented by immunization. Safe and effective vaccines exist – the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

Complete your children’s immunization to protect them from vaccine preventable diseases.  Ensure your relatives and friends also complete their children’s immunization.