UN to begin polio and measles vaccinations as Ebola transmissions plummet in Liberia

8 May 2015

United Nations agencies and their partners today announced a massive campaign to vaccinate more than 600,000 children against polio and measles in Liberia as a crucial step towards recovery and the restoration of health services in the West African country, where Ebola transmissions have dwindled in recent weeks.

“On 9 May, 42 days will have elapsed since the burial of the last confirmed case and the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease will be declared over in [Liberia],” according to the World Health Organization in its latest update on the outbreak.

The vaccination campaign in Liberia “aims to vaccinate more than 683,000 children against polio and 603,000 against measles,” according to a joint press release by Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued in Monrovia, Liberia.

“The polio vaccines will be given to children aged up to 59 months, and the measles vaccine to children between the ages of six and 59 months,” said the release. “Children aged 12-59 months will also receive deworming medicine.”

The massive vaccination campaign had been scheduled for last year, but was suspended due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has affected more than 26,500 people, including over 11,000 deaths in the most-affected countries Guinea and Sierra Leone, as well as Liberia.

But because there is still a risk of reintroduction from Guinea and Sierra Leone – where transmission continues – infection prevention measures will be heightened during the campaign, including temperature checks and the use of single-use syringes and new gloves for each child vaccinated, according to the agencies involved in the campaign.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and one of the leading causes of death among young children globally. Polio, also a highly infectious viral disease, can lead to paralysis and sometimes death, with children under the age of five the most vulnerable. Both diseases are easily preventable as vaccines are effective and inexpensive.

“A major social mobilization effort has been deployed to convince communities of the need to have their children vaccinated and to explain the measures being taken to minimize any risk of infection,” the press release said.

Later Friday, WHO issued interim advice on the sexual transmission of Ebola, that said “sexual transmission of the Ebola virus, from males to females is a strong possibility, but has not yet been proven. Less probable, but theoretically possible, is female to male transmission.”

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