Zimbabwe: Mass Polio Vaccination Starts

20 February 2024

The mass polio vaccination campaign against a new variant that has not been vaccinated against since 2015 is set to start across the country today, targeting all children aged 10 years and below.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that largely affects children under five years of age, causing permanent paralysis in around one in 200 infections or death in 2 to 10 percent of those paralysed.

The virus is transmitted from person to person, mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

Health experts say the incubation period is usually 7 to 10 days, but can range from 4 to 35 days. Up to 90 percent of those infected are either asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms and the disease usually goes unrecognised.

Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Sleiman Kwidini said two rounds of emergency national polio vaccination campaigns targeting all children below 10 years of age have been scheduled for this month and next month.

The detailed polio risk analysis conducted by the ministry has identified the below 10-year-old age group as having a higher risk of these type 2 polioviruses, since vaccines targeting this type were stopped globally in 2015 after global eradication.

In the planned vaccination campaign, all children below 10 years are being targeted with an initial two rounds of novel oral Polio vaccine (nOPV2) to quickly boost their protection from this type of poliovirus.

"The first round is scheduled between February 20 and March 1 while the second round is scheduled between March 19 and 29 for all provinces," said Deputy Minister Kwidini.

"The emergency vaccination campaign, which will be conducted in close collaboration with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, targets to vaccinate and protect a total of 4 206 013 children in each of the two rounds.

"The vaccines for both rounds 1 and 2 have already been received in the country and prepositioned in all provinces and cities. Vaccination will be done through the deployment of house-to-house and mobile vaccination teams in addition to vaccination at all health facilities during the campaign days," he said.

Given the contagious nature of circulating polioviruses and their capacity to evolve to a type that causes serious disease and debilitating paralysis, Deputy Minister Kwidini said the ministry strongly encourages all parents and caregivers of children to ensure that all children below 10 years of age are vaccinated against polio and protected.

"On behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe, I would like to acknowledge technical and funding partners who are complementing Government efforts in the fight against polio in the country," he said.

"These include WHO, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, UNICEF, Gavi-the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rotary Club, Crown Agents and others.

"The support is appreciated and let us continue to work together until we eradicate polio in our beautiful nation."

Speaking during a press briefing in Bulawayo yesterday, the city's director of health services, Dr Edwin Mzingwane, urged residents to make use of the opportunity and ensure every child is protected from Polio.

"We are aiming at 214 586 children and that is the number of vaccines that we have received from the Ministry of Health. The organisms are busy mutating and organising themselves to fight the vaccines so as this happens we have to constantly develop and find new vaccines even against the same disease," he said.

"Vaccines are not 100 percent efficient but can generate immunity and it becomes useful in developing antibodies.

"This means we have to routinely vaccinate so that those who are missed do not become reservoirs of the virus, which is why we continue with these rounds of vaccines," said Dr Mzingwane.

According to the city's health directorate, vaccines will be given at all municipal clinics, central hospitals, Mater Dei Hospital, selected private surgeries offering vaccination, crèches, primary schools, marketplaces, churches, bus terminuses and outreach points including house-to-house.

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