2.9 million children to be vaccinated against polio in Malawi

UNICEF procures 6.9 million polio vaccine doses for multiple immunisation rounds

03 March 2022
An under 5 recieves an oral dose of Pentavalent Vaccine at Chikwa Village Clinic in Mzimba South
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Mvula

Lilongwe, 3 March 2022 – UNICEF Malawi will procure and distribute 6.9 million polio vaccine doses for approximately 2.9 million children under the age of five in Malawi. This is in response to a polio outbreak as announced by the Ministry of Health on 17 February. UNICEF, WHO and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative - Gavi, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation , Rotary and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are supporting the Ministry of Health to vaccinate all children under the age of five in four mass vaccination campaigns. 

The first vaccine shipment is expected to arrive in the country ahead of the first immunisation campaign which is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks. UNICEF is also installing 223 new vaccine refrigerators, repairing 51 vaccine refrigerators and distributing 200 vaccine carriers and 38 cold boxes to health centres across the country in preparation for this mass vaccination exercise.

“The resurgence of the wild poliovirus in Malawi, decades after it was last detected is cause for serious concern. Vaccination is the only way to protect the children of Malawi from this crippling disease which is highly infectious,” says UNICEF Representative Rudolf Schwenk.

It takes multiple doses of the polio vaccine to achieve full immunisation against polio. About 2.9 million children under the age of five are expected to receive four rounds of the vaccine, regardless of prior vaccination status, to achieve full protection from polio. The mass immunisation campaign will take place while the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to the damage from floods to roads and infrastructure specifically affecting access to health facilities and schools in the southern parts of the country.

“Health workers and caregivers must observe strict health and safety measures against COVID-19 during the upcoming polio immunisation campaigns. Together with partners such as WHO and the Malawi Red Cross Society, we are supporting the Government of Malawi to train health workers and inform parents, communities, local and religious leaders about the importance of this immunisation exercise,” added Schwenk.

Health authorities have activated surveillance measures in Malawi and neighbouring countries to detect any other potential cases. As an epidemic-prone, highly contagious disease, polio can spread easily through the movement of people from endemic to polio-free areas.


Notes to editors

  • Lab reports confirmed that a three-and-a-half-year girl has been paralysed by the wild poliovirus
  • The President declared a National Public Health Emergency on 17 February 2022.
  • The Polio outbreak response Emergency Operation Center (EOC) was activated and is operational at the Ministry of Health  According to international protocols one case constitutes an outbreak requiring international public health emergency response.
  • International experts have been mobilized from WHO, UNICEF, CDC to support the Ministry of Health’s surveillance, Social and Behaviour Change Communication, vaccine management, monitoring and supplementary immunization efforts.
  • The nationwide vaccination campaigns will target about 2.9 million people with bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) against wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1). The first-round campaign is expected to start in March 2022, the rest to take place in April, May and June 2022.
  • Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children under the age of five. The poliovirus enters the body through the mouth when eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with faecal matter from a person who carries the poliovirus. 
  • Initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. In a small proportion of cases, the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. A polio outbreak can spread rapidly.  
  • There is no cure for polio. Vaccination is the only way to stay protected against this deadly disease. 
  • The 6.9 million doses will cover the first two rounds of the mass immunisation campaign in March and April. UNICEF plans to procure more vaccines to cover all four rounds of the polio immunisation campaign.

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Rebecca Phwitiko
Communications Officer
Tel: 0999282723


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