Amid a growing COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, or GPEI, recommended that polio vaccination campaigns be postponed until the second half of the year and that countries responding to outbreaks of polio suspend those efforts until June 1, and then re-evaluate the situation.
The GPEI said its “thousands of polio workers, and an extensive laboratory and surveillance network, is positioned and ready to ensure that our resources are used by countries in their preparedness and response” to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic response requires worldwide solidarity and an urgent global effort,” the GPEI said. “The COVID-19 emergency means that many aspects of the polio eradication program will be — and in some areas are already — substantially affected.”
The GPEI said it will make available all of its assets — technical expertise, surveillance and community networks and logistic capacity — to support the global response to COVID-19 for the next 4 to 6 months. It also is making its financial management systems available to help channel COVID-19 funding for the response, if needed.
Caption: Polio vaccination campaigns will stop while polio workers join the fight against COVID-19. Credit: Shutterstock.com
The group suggested that critical functions related to polio acute flaccid paralysis and environmental surveillance remain a priority and that governments do anything possible to continue to monitor the circulation of wild and vaccine-derived polioviruses. It recommended that this be paired with COVID-19 surveillance.
For countries that do not wish to postpone outbreak campaigns, vaccines approved for supplemental immunization activities and outbreak response will be shipped, according to the GPEI. “New vaccine requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” it said.
Wild poliovirus is endemic in only three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, although Nigeria has not experienced a case since 2016. According to the GPEI, as of April 1, Afghanistan has reported three cases of wild poliovirus in 2020 and Pakistan has reported 36. Sixteen nonendemic countries are battling outbreaks either from the importation of wild poliovirus or the emergence of vaccine-derived cases.
“While halting important polio eradication activities is necessary, it will result in increased spread of disease and number of children paralyzed by wild and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses This will require a scale up of polio eradication efforts once the COVID-19 situation has stabilized,” the GPEI said.
“Without compromising support to the COVID-19 response, country programs should take the opportunity during the pause in vaccination campaigns to improve other elements of the program such as strategic planning and performance management processes. Finally, GPEI and country programs must develop a comprehensive set of context-specific strategies and a plan for resumption of operations.”
The GPEI’s strategy committee will review the provided recommendations on a biweekly basis. – by Ken Downey Jr.
GPEI. Polio eradication in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. http://polioeradication.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/GPEI-POB-recommendations-for-countries-on-covid-20200324.pdf. Accessed April 6, 2020.