Lessons learned from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: A roadmap for the international COVID-19 vaccination campaign

William B.Belshe1*, Jared M. Alswang2*, Alexander M. Uplift-Brown1, Luso Chilenga3, John Chipolombwe4, Vincent Y. Seaman5

  1. David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)
  2. Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA)
  3. Chitipa District Health Office (Chitipa, Malawi)
  4. Mzuzu Central Hospital (Mzuzu, Malawi)
  5. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Seattle, WA)

Corresponding Authors: William B. Belshe; E-mail: wbelshe@mednet.ucla.edu

*William B. Belshe and Jared M. Alswang are co-first authors for this paper

The COVID-19 vaccine is lauded by many as one of the greatest accomplishments in modern medicine, with the potential to definitively contain the deadliest pandemic of the last century. With the vaccine rollout now underway in the developing world, a robust, methodical, and swift global distribution effort is required to ensure that it will be done in an equitable manner. Taking into account the vast geographic, socioeconomic, cultural, and political diversity of countries around the world, global vaccination efforts have historically required multifaceted, time consuming, and labor-intensive approaches to be effective. However, with over 33 years of experience from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – an international health initiative aimed at eradicating poliomyelitis – the COVID-19 vaccination campaign does not have to be approached blindly. Using lessons learned from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, this paper aims to identify the supply- and demand-side barriers to the success of the international COVID-19 vaccination
effort, and ways each can be overcome. Most notably, health systems shortcomings, political and cultural messaging, and civil unrest and violent conflict serve as daunting obstacles to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has been able to overcome many of these same obstacles with innovative strategies such as context-specific microplanning, robust health surveillance systems, and community-centered education and advocacy programs. Ultimately, while the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is still fighting the battle of polio eradication, it has provided a roadmap for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to be executed in a more swift and equitable manner.

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