WHO massively scales up Middle East polio immunization plan

The polio outbreak in Syria has the World Health Organization (WHO) worried. Just weeks after outlining a two-month, 10-million dose vaccination campaign, the United Nations' public health arm has escalated its plans. The new goal is to vaccinate 50 million kids across the Middle East over the next 8 months.

WHO committed to the expanded campaign at a meeting of its regional committee in Oman last week. The decision followed confirmation of 10 cases of polio in northeast Syria. WHO is waiting on laboratory results from a further 12 suspected cases. With Syria experiencing its first polio cases in 14 years and neighboring Israel trying to prevent its own outbreak, WHO is to run a massive vaccination campaign to stop the disease reestablishing itself in the Middle East.

"The reality is, you've got a reinfection of the Middle East. This is going to require a massive coordination," Dr. Bruce Aylward, the head of WHO's anti-polio push, told The New York Times. One element of the coordination is simply sourcing enough vaccines. The plan calls for WHO to source and administer more than 50 million polio vaccines in the next 8 months, and this may mean diverting products from other areas.

In recent months, Israel has bought enough weakened live oral polio vaccine to administer two drops to 850,000 kids, and will need more now it has restored the product to its routine immunization schedule. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi ($SNY) and the Serum Institute of India are all prequalified by WHO to supply oral polio vaccines.

- read the NYT article (sub. req.)
- here's the AP coverage