Middle East immunization campaign seeks to vaccinate 20 million children

The largest-ever consolidated vaccination campaign to take place in the Middle East began this week to control a polio outbreak currently plaguing Syria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Palestine and the West Bank.

The Middle East eradicated polio nearly a decade ago, but within the past 12 months it returned to the region; 10 children have been paralyzed as a result of recent infections. In an effort to control the outbreak before it worsens, 20 million children will be vaccinated against poliovirus across seven countries and territories.

"The polio outbreak in Syria is not just a tragedy for children; it is an urgent alarm -- and a crucial opportunity to reach all under-immunized children wherever they are," United Nations Children's Fund Chief of Polio Peter Crowley said. "This should serve as a stark reminder to countries and communities that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere."

UNICEF will procure 1.7 billion doses of oral polio vaccine by the end of the year to protect children in the Middle East against poliovirus. While the supply of OPV is limited, there are plans to continue immunization initiatives over the course of six months.

"The Middle East has shown exactly the coordinated leadership needed to combat a deadline virus: a consolidated and sustained assault on a vaccine-preventable disease and an extraordinary commitment to a common purpose," World Health Organization Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr. Ala Alwan said.