The Philippines Marks 16 Months With no Polio Cases, WHO, UNICEF say Outbreak Over

The World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund have declared the polio outbreak in the Philippines over after going 16 months without a detected case, the Associated Press reported.

Almost 20 years after the WHO announced the Philippines was free of polio, health officials reported a reemergence of the disease in 2019. The Philippine Department of Health wrapped up its sweeping immunization and surveillance campaign June 3, the WHO and UNICEF announced Friday.

Polio is a viral affliction with no known cure that can trigger paralysis and death. The nation administered 30 million polio vaccine doses to children following the 2019 resurgence, even as the disease's spread began to overlap with COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020,

"This is a major win for public health and is an excellent example of what collective efforts can attain, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, a WHO representative in the Philippines.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Polio Vaccine
This photo taken on September 21, 2020 shows a municipal health worker (L) applying drops of a polio vaccine to children at a relocation site for informal settlers in San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan province, north of Manila. Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images

The polio immunization drive also faced a scare involving another vaccine.

The government's immunization programs were marred in 2017 by a dengue fever vaccine made by French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur which some Philippine officials linked to the deaths of at least three children.

The government halted the dengue immunization drive after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine may increase the risk of severe dengue infections. More than 830,000 children received the Dengvaxia vaccine under the campaign, which was launched in 2016 and halted in 2017.

Sanofi officials said the Dengvaxia vaccine was safe and would reduce dengue infections if the vaccination drive continued.

Philippine health officials have struggled to restore public trust in vaccines since then.

Philippines Vaccination Campaign
Community health workers roam an area to administer oral polio vaccines to children during a mass vaccination campaign to combat the resurgence of the polio virus on October 14, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images