Euorpean volcano ash slows West African vaccinations

 At least 15 million doses of polio vaccine destined for a West Africa vaccination campaign have been delayed at airports in Germany and France as a result of the volcanic ash cloud, a U.N. official has revealed.

Concerns have arisen that, as a result of the unsynchronized immunizations created by the delays, the polio virus will be able to spread within the region.

"If there are special flights or if the situation eases, we hope these vaccines could be treated as priority to transport," Martin Dawes, the regional chief of communications for the U.N. Children's Fund in West and Central Africa told Reuters.

"These vaccines have to be kept cool and if this situation lasts longer, they would have to be sent back to manufacturers to ensure that they are preserved," Dawes said.

Participation in the second phase of a campaign to immunize 85 million children under the age of five in 19 West and Central Africa countries was set to start on April 24. Because of the delays, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Togo have postponed their participation by several weeks.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF and other partners began immunizing people in the region two or three times a year since 2008 as part of a campaign to stop the spread of polio. The first part of this year's immunizations began in March.

The disease has been contained in Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo, Niger, Central African Republic and Ghana as a result of the vaccination strategy and the number of cases in Nigeria dropped from 48 in 2009 to two so far in 2010.