Health officials in South Sudan will launch a new four-day vaccination campaign on October 27, after a new outbreak of polio in the country, caused by a mutated, vaccine-derived form of the virus, infected some 15 people.

Despite declaring victory over the wild form of the infectious and contagious virus, which attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children, Africa’s youngest country has confirmed 15 new cases of vaccine-derived polio in recent weeks. 

Low immunization rates and poor sanitation provide the perfect conditions for the deadly pathogen to spread through contaminated water and food. 

The weakened form of the virus, present in the orally administered vaccine, passes through feces and, with improper sanitation, can re-enter a vulnerable, under-immunized community, mutating as it spreads. 

“There is an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio, and the Ministry of Health and its partners are working on it, and I think it is under control,” the director general for preventative health services, Dr. John Pasquale Romunu, told reporters.

“It has affected quite a number of counties and states.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Africa free of polio back in August, after four countries, including South Sudan, eradicated wild poliovirus, the second such declaration of victory over a virus on the continent since smallpox was vanquished some 40 years earlier. 

Dr. Mayen Machut Achek, an undersecretary in South Sudan’s health ministry, stated that the country was still free of wild poliovirus, adding that health officials were working with the WHO to end the vaccine-derived outbreak, through a new campaign targeting some 1.5 million children under the age of five.

“This is a vaccine-derived type, the cVDPV2, circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus Type 2. It’s vaccine-caused,” George Awzenio Legge, the director of the Expanded Program on Immunization at the Ministry of Health, said. “We want to reach all the children in every corner of South Sudan … to stop this outbreak.”

Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!