WHO Europe seeks closure of polio vaccination gaps

As long as the poliomyelitis virus is circulating in the world and vaccination coverage is not optimal, polio may return to Europe, the World Health Organization Europe said on Tuesday.

Syria is currently experiencing a polio outbreak, which necessitated a large-scale supplementary immunization campaign to vaccinate more than 1.3 million children against polio in contested and government-controlled areas. WHO Europe said that further campaigns will be needed over the next six months to interrupt transmission in infected areas.

Neighboring countries to Syria, including Turkey, started planning and implementing supplementary immunization campaigns in a multi-country response to prevent polio from spreading internationally.

The WHO recommends that all travelers to and from polio-infected areas be completely vaccinated against polio. The agency recommends that countries receiving travelers from polio-infected areas, such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, or accommodating people displaced by the conflict in Syria should identify anyone who is unimmunized or under-immunized.

The WHO also recommends that all resident populations check any vaccination gaps for polio and provide missing vaccine doses. Local communities must have high vaccination coverage to avert the risk of widespread polio outbreaks in case the virus is imported.

In May, the European Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication called for significantly greater efforts in Europe to maintain its polio-free status. The region was declared polio free in 2002.