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Home / Children's Health

Kenya rolls out new polio vaccine amid new cases

By MERCY KAHENDA | Mon,Oct 25 2021 00:00:00 EAT


Kenya has certified all conditions for the novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2). [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

There is a ray of hope in the fight against polio in Kenya following the introduction of new polio vaccine.

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. Since then, more 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.

Director of Public Health Francis Kuria said Kenya had certified all conditions for the novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2) to manage outbreaks and build immunity against the more prevalent polio type 2 (cDPV2).

Even as Kenya joined the globe in celebration of World Polio Day, six cases of polio have been detected locally this year.

The cases of deprived polio virus type 2 were detected through surveillance, from both the Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) and Environmental surveillance systems.

Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health Dr Francis Kuria noted that three of the cases were from Daadab Refugee Camp, two from Mombasa and one from Garissa.

“Three of the isolated cases were from healthy children arriving from Daadab Refugee Camp from Somalia and another three from the environment (two from Mombasa and one Garissa). All the viruses have been linked to viruses detected in Somalia,” said Dr Kuria.

Kuria said detection of the cases was an indication that the country was at greater risk of polio importation and transmission, and that there was need to scale up vigilance.

Speaking during celebration of World Polio Day, joined by representatives from Unicef and other partners, Kuria said the Ministry of Health responded to the outbreak by successfully implementing two rounds of polio campaigns in 14 high-risk counties in May and July.

Dr Kuria told The Standard the new vaccine would revamp the fight against polio disease to safeguard lives of millions of children in the country.

The vaccine was pre-qualified by World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Prequalification programme, 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 two cases of polio were detected in Kamukunji in Nairobi and Daadab Refugees camp, in Garissa County two weeks ago. The Daadab case, noted Kuria, was a spill from Somalia and is a normal circulating vaccine-derived polio.

The Kamukunji case, however, is a new variant of polio, due to mutation of the virus, “but is under investigations as the poliovirus keeps mutating”. 

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

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

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