In addition to affecting individual health the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted efforts to deliver essential health services around the world. In this article we present an overview of the immediate programmatic and epidemiologic impact of the pandemic on polio eradication as well as the adaptive strategic and operational measures taken by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) from March through September 2020. Shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, the GPEI initially redirected the programme’s assets to tackle COVID-19 and suspended house-to-house supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) while also striving to continue essential poliovirus surveillance functions. From March to May 2020, 28 countries suspended a total of 62 polio vaccine SIAs. In spite of efforts to continue poliovirus surveillance, global acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases reported from January-July 2020 declined by 34% compared with the same period in 2019 along with decreases in the mean number of environment samples collected per active site in the critical areas of the African and Eastern Mediterranean regions. The GPEI recommended countries should resume planning and implementation of SIAs starting in July 2020 and released guidelines to ensure these could be done safely for front line workers and communities. By the end of September 2020, a total of 14 countries had implemented circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreak response vaccination campaigns and Afghanistan and Pakistan restarted SIAs to stop ongoing wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) transmission. The longer-term impacts of disruptions to eradication efforts remain to be determined, especially in terms of the effect on poliovirus epidemiology. Adapting to the pandemic situation has imposed new considerations on program implementation and demonstrated not only GPEI’s contribution to global health security, but also identified potential opportunities for coordinated approaches across immunization and health services.
Available online 22 October 2021