Zimbabwe Mobilizes Polio Vaccination Drive Following Rare Mutation Cases

Zimbabwe Mobilizes Polio Vaccination Drive

Zimbabwe Mobilizes Polio Vaccination Drive

Zimbabwe has launched an emergency vaccination campaign to immunize over 4 million children against polio after detecting three cases caused by a rare mutation of the weakened virus in oral vaccines. The mutation led to a 10-year-old girl being paralyzed in January. Laboratory tests revealed the presence of a mutated polio virus in sewage sites in Harare, originating from an oral vaccine used in global eradication efforts. In rare instances, the live polio virus in vaccines can mutate into a form capable of causing new outbreaks, especially in areas with poor sanitation and low vaccination rates.

Global polio cases have dropped by over 99% since the eradication campaign began in 1988. However, most current cases are linked to a vaccine-derived virus. Zimbabwe is using a new oral polio vaccine designed to minimize the risk of mutation. The country aims to administer over 10 million doses in two rounds in February and March to protect just over 4 million children under 10. Immunizing more than 95% of this population is crucial to prevent new outbreaks.

Last year, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the only countries with the virus, reported 12 cases of the wild poliovirus. In contrast, vaccine-linked polioviruses caused over 500 cases in nearly two dozen countries, primarily in Africa. Zimbabwe last reported a wild poliovirus case in 1986. Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora expressed concern but assured swift response preparations. The ministry collaborates with health authorities in other African countries that recently detected polioviruses through environmental sampling and routine surveillance.

Polio, causing total paralysis, mainly affects children under 5 and spreads through contact with contaminated feces, water, food, or droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. The vaccination campaign aims to curb the spread of the mutated virus and protect vulnerable populations.

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