Polio vaccines return in Afghanistan, Pakistan after COVID-19 hiatus

A child receives the polio vaccine in Kabul, Afghanistan. UNICEF said Tuesday 50 million Afghan and Pakistani children weren't able to receive their vaccinations in recent months. File Photo by Hossein Fatemi/UPI

Aug. 11 (UPI) — Pakistan and Afghanistan have restarted polio vaccinations after their campaigns were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic months ago, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Tuesday.

Both nations stopped inoculating children against polio in March to focus efforts on the emerging coronavirus crisis. In the months since, there have been 34 polio cases in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan — some in previously polio-free areas.

The interruption postponed polio vaccines for about 50 million Afghan and Pakistani children, UNICEF said.

The poliovirus, which enters the body through the mouth in contaminated food or water, causes the disease and can result in paralysis and death. It was eliminated decades ago in the United States and most countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two nations in the world that are still seeing a natural spread of the virus.

“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Jean Gough said in a statement. “As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe.”

Gough said she’s hopeful polio will be eradicated in Afghanistan and Pakistan amid the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“We are committed to reaching every child,” she said.

UNICEF said vaccination drives last month inoculated almost 800,000 Afghan and Pakistani children. A second round will begin this month.

Polio vaccines were first developed in the 1950s.


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