China conducts biggest polio immunization campaign

News release

China is midway through a third round of immunizations against the polio outbreak that was confirmed in August 2011 in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The new round of immunizations, which began on 15 November and is scheduled to end on 22 November, aims to immunize everyone who was targeted in the two previous rounds, which began on 8 September. All other provinces in China are conducting preventive supplementary and catch-up immunizations in high-risk areas in the largest immunization activity since the country interrupted its last polio transmission in 1999.

"Everyone at risk of getting polio needs to be immunized at least three times with oral polio vaccine," says Dr Shin Young-soo, the World Health Organization's Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "China will act until the disease is again banished from its territory. This is important for the efforts to eradicate polio from both the Region and the world."

At the request of the Government of China, WHO is providing technical support for the outbreak response. The technical support focuses on assessments of population immunity levels to identify high-risk groups, facilitate enhanced disease surveillance, and plan and monitor the immunization campaign.

More than 9 million children and young adults have been immunized in China since the country began its all-out fight against the outbreak.

Eighteen cases of polio have been confirmed in the Xinjiang – nine among very young children (under three years of age) and nine among young adults (19 to 31 years old) since the outbreak began. One person has died. Genetic sequencing has determined that the wild poliovirus cases found in China are most closely related to virus circulating in Pakistan.

Despite China's outbreak, there are no immediate implications for the official polio-free status that WHO's Western Pacific Region has had since October 2000. Experience shows that outbreaks such as the one in China can be quashed with determined response activities before they would jeopardize the polio-free status.

Until the outbreak, the last case of wild poliovirus in China was in 1999 and was due to importation from India. China's last indigenous polio case occurred in 1994.

Meanwhile, the Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication in the Western Pacific Region rallied behind China's immunization efforts to stay polio-free. The Regional Commission meets annually to review progress reports from all countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region and to make recommendations on required actions for maintaining the Region's polio-free status. The meeting began yesterday in Hanoi, Viet Nam, and is scheduled to conclude tomorrow.

Throughout China's immunization campaign, there has been effective collaboration among various sectors of government and civil society, such as schools, police, women's organizations and neighbourhood associations.

For more information, please contact:

Ms Helen Yu
Communications Officer for the WHO China
Telephone: +8610 6532 7191
Mobile: +86 1391 1205167

Dr Sigi Roesel
Medical Officer, Expanded Programme on Immunization
Telephone: +63 2 5289741

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Telephone: +632 528 9992
Mobile: +63 908 886 8738

Mr Oliver Rosenbauer
Communications Officer, WHO Headquarters, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3832
Mobile: +41 79 500 6536