8 December 2015 – A week into the second of three rounds of polio vaccination in Ukraine, WHO and UNICEF are calling on parents, health workers and opinion leaders to step up efforts to protect Ukrainian children through vaccination.

Initial data from Ukraine’s Ministry of Health show that just 20% of children under the age of six years were vaccinated in the first week of the current vaccination round. “There are only a few days left to reach the minimum target of 95% in each round required to protect the country’s children against polio,” said Dr Dorit Nitzan, WHO Representative in Ukraine.Due to low coverage so far, WHO has recommended that the Ministry of Health extend the round for an additional week to give parents more time to bring their children for vaccination.

Due to low coverage so far, WHO has recommended that the Ministry of Health extend the round for an additional week to give parents more time to bring their children for vaccination.

In the first round of vaccination, less than 65% of the coverage levels required were achieved, meaning more than one million children are still vulnerable to infection and at risk of paralysis or even death. The risk of this outbreak spreading further remains unless enough children are vaccinated to stop the transmission of the polio virus.

The vaccination campaign is crucial due to the detection of two cases of polio reported by Ukraine’s Ministry of Health and confirmed by WHO in Zakarpatska region on 1 September 2015. The extremely low rates of immunization during recent years allowed these polio cases to emerge.

“Without vaccination, polio can make a dangerous comeback. This outbreak, the first to hit Ukraine in 19 years, shows how vulnerable children are and how crucially important it is to protect them through timely vaccination,” said Giovanna Barberis Representative UNICEF Ukraine.

Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is the WHO-recommended vaccine to interrupt polio transmission as it can rapidly stop transmission of the virus. Children need to receive at least three doses of OPV to be fully immunized against polio.

OPV has been safely and effectively used to protect Ukrainian children for over 50 years. That means that the parents of today’s children have received OPV. Their children deserve no less level of protection.

WHO and UNICEF urge all parents, health workers and political leaders to protect children from the risk of this crippling disease by supporting children to be vaccinated this week and again in January during the third round of this outbreak campaign.

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*The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.

About WHO
WHO’s primary role is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system. WHO main areas of work include health systems, promoting health through the life-course, noncommunicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, surveillance and response. For more information about WHO in Ukraine follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About UNICEF
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF in Ukraine and its work visit: www.unicef.org/ukraine. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

For further information, please contact:
Veronika Vashchenko, UNICEF Kyiv, +38 044 254 2439, vvashchenko@unicef.org
Olha Izhyk, WHO Kyiv, +38 063 42 77 696, izo@euro.who.int

Initial data from Ukraine’s Ministry of Health show that just 20% of children under the age of six years were vaccinated in the first week of the current vaccination round. “There are only a few days left to reach the minimum target of 95% in each round required to protect the country’s children against polio,” said Dr Dorit Nitzan, WHO Representative in Ukraine.