The Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) yesterday began a seven-day nationwide vaccination exercise to rid the country of the poliomyelitis (polio) type two virus.
Children born between January 2016 and February 2018 were not vaccinated against polio type two due to a switch in vaccines during the period, thereby placing them at high risk to the disease.
Addressing a press conference on the exercise in Accra yesterday, the Director of Public Health at the GHS, Dr Ebenezer Badu Sarkodie, said the campaign targeted children from one year, nine months to less than four years to help bridge the polio type two vaccination gap of 0.2 per cent.
The initiative was also to help avoid eroding the gains chalked up over the years, including the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) pronouncement of Ghana as polio-free in 2015, he said.
He said the campaign had become necessary because new cases of the disease, which was near eradication in Ghana, had been recorded locally and in a few countries in the sub-region.
Ghana recorded 16 new cases of the type two polio disease in 2019, informing the decision for the campaign.
Dr Sarkodie said the immunisation exercise would take place in all health centres and a number of temporary immunisation posts set up in schools, churches and public places.
In addition, he said, health officials would move round to immunise children.
Explaining why the vaccination gap had occurred, he said following national and global eradication of the type two wild polio virus in 2015, Ghana switched from the vaccine it was using at the time, known as the trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV), which was introduced in 1978 to provide protection or immunity for all three polio viruses, to one that provided immunity for the types one and three, known as the bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) in 2016.
Again, in April 2016, a more advanced vaccine, the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), was introduced, he said.
However, he said, actual administration of IPV, which gave immunity for all three, was begun in June 2018, meaning that the over two million children born between January 2016 and February 2018 did not receive protection against the type two wild polio virus.
“There is, therefore, the need to vaccinate these children to ensure that they have maximum protection against polio infection,” he said.
Describing polio as a disease of filth, he said if a population was fully immunised, they would be protected against all forms of polio viruses.
Dr Sarkodie said since July 2019, Ghana, along with its neighbours, had had challenges with new outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio virus type two (cVDPV), with Ghana recording 16 new cases as a result of low vaccination coverage over a long period of time, coupled with open defecation or poor sanitation.
He assured the public that the IPV injection was very safe and appealed to parents to allow their children to be vaccinated in order to prevent them from being killed or permanently disabled.
He said although polio did not have a cure, vaccines had been developed for prevention, which had led to the eradication of the type two virus in Ghana and globally, while type three remained endemic in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He said the last case of wild polio was recorded in the country in 2008.
The acting WHO Representative in Ghana, Dr Neema Rusibamayila Kimambo, congratulated Ghana and particularly its health workers on the strides the country had made with regard to polio vaccination, as well as in healthcare service in general.
“I want to reiterate the commitment of the WHO and other partners to support Ghana to sustain its high immunisation coverage and strengthen surveillance towards remaining a polio-free country,” she said.