New polio vaccine to save millions of children from fresh outbreaks

HEALTH & SCIENCE |

Two and half year old Magret Waithera receives polio vaccine in the second phase at Moi Lane, a backstreet in Nairobi on July 19, 2021 where she lives with her mother.  [Denish Ochieng,Standard]

There is an array of hope in the fight against polio in Kenya following the introduction of new polio vaccine at a time when the country has detected new variant and cases. 

Kenya was certified poliovirus free in 2005, but suffered a setback in 2018 after live viruses were found in samples collected from Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate and since then, other cases have been reported in northern Kenya.

Polio affects children below five years and is transmitted from person-to-person mainly through the faecal-oral route. It causes paralysis, life-long disability and even death.

The new vaccines, however, provides new hope and Director of Public Health, Dr Francis Kuria, said Kenya has certified all conditions for the novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2) to manage outbreaks and build immunity against the more prevalent polio type 2 (cDPV2).

Dr Kuria told the Standard in an interview that the “new vaccine will revamp fight against polio disease, to safeguard lives of millions of children in the country.”

The vaccine was pre-qualified by World Health Organization’s (WHO) Prequalification program which issued an Emergency Use Listing recommendation following clinical trials showing it to be safe and providing protection against polio comparable to the currently used type 2 monovalent OPV (mOPV2).

The nOPV2 is a modified version of mOPV2 and has been in development for about a decade.

Only two countries in Africa, Nigeria and Liberia are using the new vaccine, but Kenya will shortly follow Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Togo and Cameroon in rolling it out.

The vaccine comes at a time when two cases of polio were detected in Kamukunji in Nairobi and Daadab Refugees camp, in Garissa County two weeks ago. The Daadab case, noted Dr Kuria, was a spill from Somalia and is a normal circulating vaccine derived polio.

The Kamkunji case, however, is a new variant of polio, due to mutation of the virus but “is under investigations as the poliovirus keeps mutating. But there is no cause for alarm as a team of health experts have intensified surveillance.

The two cases were detected during routine immunization program against six childhood killer diseases namely tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles.

Late last year, two other cases had been detected in Garissa and Mombasa and this May UNICEF noted that over three million children in 13 counties in Kenya were to be vaccinated against polio with targeted counties including Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kiambu, Kilifi, Kitui, Lamu and Machakos.

 Others were Mandera, Mombasa, Nairobi, Tana River, Wajir and the Dadaab refugee camp.

But the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted routine immunization and the country thus remains at risk of polio due to low immunization, porous borders with high-risk countries and high population movements “and we are pleading with parents not to ignore normal routine immunization,” says Dr Kuria. “The program shall continue uninterrupted, as we continue with surveillance and monitoring.”

 While launching the campaigns in Garissa in May, UNICEF Representative in Kenya Maniza Zaman termed “polio a devastating childhood disease and as long as one child has polio, no child is safe. To eradicate polio, all children in all households must be immunized.”

  About five months later, Kuria noted that the campaigns have been successful, with at least 95 percent coverage and any further outbreaks of any childhood diseases “can be averted through supplementary immunization vaccines. As we celebrate World Polio Day on October 24, we are happy for the achievement the country has attained in eradicating the disease.”

In August last year, Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication, officially declared that Africa free of wild poliovirus; the second huge achievement for Africa after eradicating smallpox in May 1980.

The decision by ARCC come in after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.

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