Polio vaccinators are back after pandemic pause


In a sad knock-on effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) abruptly halted all mass vaccination campaigns in March, worried they could inadvertently spread the novel coronavirus. The move further imperiled the troubled 3-decade drive to wipe out polio. But now, armed with new data and perspective, GPEI and the countries it supports are resuming vaccination campaigns. Burkina Faso was first in early July; Pakistan followed this week. Polio cases are surging in many countries, and models paint a “pretty bleak picture” if campaigns don't restart soon, says Michel Zaffran, who heads the effort at the World Health Organization (WHO). For now, countries will only be responding to outbreaks; preventive campaigns remain on hold. Back in March, when COVID-19 began to spread around the world, no one knew whether door-to-door polio campaigns would make things worse, says Hil Lyons, a statistician at the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) in Bellevue, Washington. Without answers, “The default was to shut things down,” he says.