Two cases of polio have been confirmed in unvaccinated children in two different regions of Ukraine. Polio is a serious but preventable illness that can cause serious illness and death. The children developed paralysis as a result of being infected with polio. The same virus was identified in one of the children’s siblings, however they did not develop symptoms. One of the strains of polio virus identified in Ukraine is similar to a strain that was first found in Pakistan and has also been identified in Tajikistan. This specific strain is derived from a vaccine strain found in oral polio vaccines which were used in Pakistan. The polio virus mutated to become more virulent and was transmitted in the community. This type of live weakened polio vaccine which was used in Pakistan is no longer used in Europe to prevent such events happening.
The Government of Ukraine officially told the World Health Organization (WHO) about the case on 3 October 2021 and told the public about the case on 6 October 2021. Local authorities, along with WHO teams are working to find the source of the virus and to see if there might be other cases of polio in Ukraine. They are also checking to see if there is a risk of the virus spreading within Ukraine and other countries.
Local health teams in Ukraine offered polio vaccine, which is inactive and not a live weakened vaccine, for any children who may have missed normal polio vaccination to make sure that all are protected from the disease. This took place in October and is continuing. Children under five years of age are being offered the vaccine to prevent further cases occurring.
Everyone travelling from Ireland to countries where polio transmission is occurring should make sure that they are fully vaccinated against polio to protect against this disease. All residents of Ukraine travelling internationally are recommended a dose of polio vaccine four weeks to 12 months before international travel.