Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The mass polio vaccination campaign will go on for another three days following an extension by the health ministry. The ministry was prompted to extend the exercise that started on Thursday last week due to lack of vaccine carriers, according to health officials.
Now, the exercise will officially end on Wednesday, January 19th, 2022 following the three-day extension. The campaign targets the Wild Polio 2 virus, samples of which were detected last year at two sewage treatment sites. This type of polio can lead to permanent paralysis or even death in some cases.
According to a Ministry of health survey carried out prior to the start of the campaign, only 24,000 cold chain carriers were available in the country. This means that about 56,000 out of the 80,000 teams deployed to conduct the polio vaccination exercise nationwide didn’t get the carriers, which are used to safely carry the vaccines.
Apparently, the ministry is using a staggered approach, where vaccination teams are sharing the carriers. Dr. Immaculate Ampaire, the deputy program manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI) says the campaign exposed the need of investing in door-to-door cold storage equipment.
“When it comes to other cold storage equipment, we are okay but we do not have enough vaccine carriers. In this ongoing campaign, we had a shortfall of over 50,000 and that is why districts were asked to do passed implementation,” Ampaire said.
This extension comes even after the ministry of health halted COVID-19 vaccination from taking place as a means of freeing up cold chain boxes that would otherwise have been used to store COVID-19 vaccines. The Health Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona says that the ministry is working towards increasing the capacity of cold chain storage equipment in the country.
“We are working on increasing our capacity as a country. Recently, the health ministry received equipment worth US$ 8.3million. We believe this will improve our vaccination services in the country,” he said. The mass polio vaccination campaign targets 8,791,710 million children aged 5 and below. However as of Monday afternoon, only 7.2 million children had been vaccinated while another 1.5 million are yet to receive the vaccine.
Dr. Ampaire says that they hope to vaccinate all the children in the next few days. “We are using the sub-county approach. Previously it used to be district but this time around since it is the door to door, we shall have teams visit each household and school. So this should not be a cause of worry. We are going to reach every child under our target,” she adds.
According to preliminary data released by the immunization program, Busoga has emerged as the best performing region in this campaign with 484,809 children vaccinated followed by South Central with 450,260 children. Ampaire attributes Busoga’s excellent performance to a change in the models used.
Figures from the health ministry show that the region normally scores less than 50 percent vaccine coverage on average when it comes to routine immunization. “This time around we had a plan that catered for all parishes. We used village teams to move from one village to another and parish to parish. This helped us plan for all hard-to-reach areas like mountains, islands, and even some cities,” she said.
Having been named free of the virus in 2015, vaccination for this specific type of polio was removed from Uganda’s routine immunization schedule in 2016. As such, the country no longer stores vaccines for it. Ampaire says under such circumstances, parents need to utilize this chance and take their children for vaccination.
“We are urging parents and school administrators to go and get children under five vaccinated. This vaccine is targeting polio type 2 which was removed from the routine immunization schedule. We have gotten a chance to get resources from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to carry out this campaign and as such this is an opportunity for parents to take,” Ampaire said.