Urgent immunisation campaign launched in 13 counties to tackle polio outbreak

Three million children across 13 counties of Kenya are to be vaccinated against polio

21 May 2021
Polio vaccine

Nairobi, 21 May 2021 - Three million children across 13 counties of Kenya are to be vaccinated against polio by the Government, UNICEF, WHO and partners, after the virus was confirmed to be circulating in Garissa and Mombasa. The immunisation campaign was launched today in Garissa.

A door-to-door campaign will now take place from 22 to 26 of May in Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kiambu, Kilifi, Kitui, Lamu, Machakos, Mandera, Mombasa, Nairobi, Tana River and Wajir counties, as well as in the Dadaab refugee camps.

“The Government of Kenya is taking urgent action to stop polio in its tracks and save children’s lives,” Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe said. “History shows that outbreaks like this can be stopped quickly with two to three rounds of supplementary immunisation campaigns. We have done this before, so we can do it again.”

The polio virus is highly contagious and can cause paralysis and lifelong disability, or even death. The Ministry of Health and authorities in the high-risk counties, are urging communities to report any child under the age of 15 who develops sudden weaknesses in their hands and/or legs.

“Polio is a devastating childhood disease and as long as one child has polio, no child is safe,” UNICEF Representative in Kenya Maniza Zaman said. “To eradicate polio, all children in all households must be immunised. UNICEF is urging every family in the affected areas to make sure children under the age of five are vaccinated.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also supporting the campaign through operational funds and technical guidance. WHO has been at the core of supporting polio prevention through technical support with teams and staff working in the county’s health system to ensure high surveillance standards are kept. This includes doing active case search in health facilities, monitoring and evaluation, and facilitation of laboratory work.

“Polio poses a damaging and life-long risk to children,” WHO Representative to Kenya Dr Rudi Eggers said. “Our plan is to achieve and sustain a polio-free world and vaccination is one of our core eradication strategies. We appreciate the Government and partners for prioritizing and supporting this effort through this campaign and other efforts. WHO support over the years has helped in sustaining surveillance standards at all times and detecting the presence of the dangerous virus, as happened recently.”

Wild polio was eradicated in Kenya in 2014 and is now eradicated worldwide in all but two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, another form of the polio virus that occurs in under-immunised communities with poor sanitation has been detected by health surveillance teams in Garissa and Mombasa. This virus mutates in the body of a vaccinated child and is then passed on through their faeces. This mutated virus can cause paralysis if it infects another child who has not been vaccinated.

Kenya remains at risk of polio due to low immunisation coverage resulting from Covid-§9 interruptions, porous borders with high-risk countries and high population movements. Routine vaccination has also been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2018 and 2020, around 300,000 children in the 13 counties identified as high-risk had not had their three rounds of routine Polio vaccination, as part of their routine childhood immunisations. 

Recently, a child in Garissa county was found to have the mutated virus, but no paralysis. Another two samples from sewage in Garissa and Mombasa were found to have the mutated virus as well. No cases of children with polio paralysis have yet been detected in the 13 counties, but authorities fear that, without swift action, it will only be a matter of time before this happens.

“If even one child tests positive for polio, 200,000 other children are considered by the World Health Organization to be at risk of contracting the virus,” Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe said. “We must now work together to reach every child in the 13 counties with immunisation, in order to eliminate polio in Kenya.”

The Government of Kenya is supported in this campaign by UNICEF, WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID and the Government of Canada.

Media contacts

Joy Wanja Muraya
Communication Specialist
Tel: 0721 466 267
Mburugu Gikunda
Media Advisor
Ministry of Health
Tel: 0722521366


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. For more information about COVID-19, visit www.unicef.org/coronavirus . Find out more about UNICEF’s work on the COVID-19 vaccines here, or about UNICEF’s work on immunization here.