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Number Of Polio Cases Worldwide Reaches Record Low, But Experts Say Challenges Remain

“The number of polio cases worldwide reached a record low in 2012, giving experts confidence that the disease can finally be eradicated, according to presentations made at” the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in Atlanta on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports (11/13). “The number of polio cases around the world that have been reported this year as of October dropped to 177, down from 502 cases as of October 2011,” and “for the first time ever, no new cases were reported in previously unaffected countries, meaning the geographic spread of polio has slowed,” the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog writes (Bardin, 11/13).

Yellow Fever Kills More Than 100 People In Darfur; WHO, Health Ministry To Provide Immunizations

“More than two million people in Sudan’s Darfur region will be vaccinated against a rare yellow fever outbreak suspected of killing 107 people since late September, health officials said on Tuesday,” Agence France-Presse/France 24 reports (11/13). In a joint statement, the WHO and the Sudanese Ministry of Health said the mosquito-borne disease has spread throughout the western territory, which “has been plagued by conflict since rebels took up arms in 2003,” Reuters notes (Dziadosz, 11/13). The International Coordinating Group on Yellow Fever Vaccine Provision, a WHO partnership with vaccine manufacturers, will provide the vaccines, according to VOA News (Lipin, 11/13). Anshu Banerjee of the WHO office in Sudan “said that while no yellow fever cases have been found outside Darfur, the WHO is planning a risk assessment in the next two weeks on the assumption that all areas in Sudan may be at risk of infection,” the Associated Press reports. “The WHO estimates that more than 500 million people in 32 countries in Africa are at risk of yellow fever infection,” the news service notes (Fick, 11/13).

Washington Post Examines Polio Eradication Efforts In Pakistan

The Washington Post reports on polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, writing, “[O]verall trends in Pakistan, where nearly 30 million children have been vaccinated in recent years, are encouraging.” The newspaper writes, “Last year’s cases numbered 198 nationwide,” adding, “This year’s tally is 54.” However, “the intractability of other social ills, including insurgency, poverty, illiteracy and inadequate sanitation, have conspired to ensure that the country remains years away from meeting its goal of polio eradication by the dawn of 2013,” the newspaper notes. The Washington Post discusses a number of challenges to vaccination efforts, such as a Taliban ban on vaccinations and fear among some parents that “the drops contain religiously proscribed (‘non-halal’) ingredients or are part of a Western plot to spread infertility and limit Muslim population growth.” The newspaper adds, “One key to reducing outbreaks, U.N. health workers say, is to educate parents” (Leiby, 11/16).

Yellow Fever Outbreak In Sudan’s Darfur Kills 67, WHO Reports

“A yellow fever outbreak in Sudan’s Darfur region has killed 67 people so far,” and “the number of cases has more than doubled since the start of the epidemic last month,” the WHO said in a statement on Wednesday, the U.N. News Centre reports. The report “stated that the outbreak has now affected 17 localities in central, south, west and north Darfur, with 194 cases reported — a significant increase from the 84 initial cases reported at the start of the outbreak,” according to the news service (11/7). “WHO announced in the report a plan of action to counter the spread of the disease, including a vaccination campaign and training of medical cadres,” the Sudan Tribune writes. The Ministry of Health “said it needs four million vaccine units to counter the outbreak,” according to the newspaper (11/7). “The report’s recommendations also include strengthening disease surveillance in eastern Darfur, continuing laboratory testing of patients from newly affected localities, and finalizing a vaccination plan that identifies resources available as well as partners to implement it,” the U.N. News Centre writes (11/7).

UNICEF To Ramp Up Global Vaccination Program

“UNICEF is preparing ambitious plans to update, strengthen and vastly expand its global vaccination program,” and “is gearing up to triple its capacity over the next five years,” according to a UNICEF news story. “A more effective and wide-reaching vaccination program will also help UNICEF fulfill its commitment to reaching the most vulnerable,” the story reports (Niles, 1/3).

Risks Of Modifying Flu Strains To Become Highly Transmissible In Humans Outweigh Benefits

In this Journal Sentinel Online opinion piece, Thomas Inglesby, chief executive officer and director of the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC in Baltimore; Anita Cicero, chief operating officer and deputy director of the center; and D.A. Henderson, a distinguished scholar at the center, comment on a recent announcement by scientists that they have genetically modified a strain of H5N1 bird flu that is “capable of spreading through the air between ferrets that were physically separated from each other,” indicating “it would be readily transmissible by air between humans.” They write, “We believe the benefits of [purposefully engineer(ing) avian flu strains to become highly transmissible in humans] do not outweigh the risks.”

Threefold Increase In Polio Cases In Afghanistan Concerns Experts

The New York Times examines how after years of decline, the number of recorded polio cases in Afghanistan tripled in 2011 to 76, following only 25 cases in 2010, raising concerns among international health experts that polio is seeing a resurgence, “particularly since some of the cases erupted far outside the disease’s traditional areas in Afghanistan.”

Despite One Year Without Polio Cases, Threat of Disease Still Looms In India

T. Jacob John, a former professor of clinical virology an the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, who has served on several Global and National Committees on Immunization and Polio Eradication, writes in this opinion piece in India’s Hindu, “While one year has passed without polio caused by natural poliovirus, we can claim complete eradication only after we ensure the absence of wild and vaccine polioviruses in the population.” He provides a brief history of polio eradication efforts, globally and in India, and continues, “For certification of eradication, two more years should pass without any case of wild virus polio. … We must continue working as if we still have poliovirus lurking somewhere, only to show up when least expected” (1/8).

Al Jazeera Examines Candidate Malaria Vaccine, Other Ongoing Efforts To Thwart The Disease

Al Jazeera reports on the candidate malaria vaccine known as RTS,S, which “has been heralded as one of the Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2011 by Time and Science magazines, Doctors Without Borders and the Lancet.” The news service recaps the history of the vaccine’s development, outlines a number of existing prevention strategies and details ongoing efforts in the global fight against malaria (Dalal, 1/11).

HHS Secretary Sebelius Helps India Mark One Year Since Last Recorded Polio Case

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “administered polio vaccination drops to children in New Delhi on Friday as India marked one year since its last case of the crippling disease,” the Associated Press reports (1/13). The Hill’s “Healthwatch” reports that “[o]fficials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] say U.S. funding and experience were key to beating back the disease,” but “[t]he news comes as federal funding for global health programs now faces sharp cuts from Tea Party lawmakers and others worried about the deficit” (Pecquet, 1/12). “­Globally, the U.S. government has provided $2 billion for the polio eradication campaign, Rotary International has raised about $1 billion from its members, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $1 billion,” and the CDC “weighed in with crucial expertise,” the Washington Post writes (Denyer, 1/12).