UNICEF Malawi says the first polio vaccine shipment is expected to arrive in the country on Saturday, March 5, 2022, ahead of the first immunisation campaign, which is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.
UNICEF Representative Rudolf Schwenk said in a statement that the agency 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 2022.
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,” Schwenk said.
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, he said.
Schwenk said 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,” he added
Schwenk further said 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.