COVID-19 hits routine immunisation

A file photo of a child being administered polio drops in Bengaluru during the immunisation programme.

A file photo of a child being administered polio drops in Bengaluru during the immunisation programme.

While all focus is on COVID-19, paediatric experts point out that many children have lost out on routine immunisation during the pandemic, especially in urban areas.

The 13-member expert committee, headed by cardiologist Devi Prasad Shetty, set up for prevention and management of the third wave of COVID-19, has recommended strengthening routine immunisation on priority. Members of the committee pointed out many parents had opted to delay childhood immunisation owing to the fear of COVID-19. This has been mainly observed among the urban poor, especially construction workers.

The former High Court judge A.V. Chandrashekar, chairman of the committee set up for implementation of NALSA scheme for providing legal services to workers in unorganised sector in Karnataka, told The Hindu that many children of construction workers in the State have missed out on routine immunisation.

“We are concerned there could be another pandemic due to this. We had a meeting with paediatric experts and officials from the Health Department on Tuesday and have conveyed our concern to them,” he said.

He said although health officials claimed that routine immunisation coverage was 100%, it was only in rural areas as health personnel went door-to-door to get the children vaccinated even during the pandemic.

“However, children of construction workers who have migrated from rural areas to cities are the ones who have lost out on routine immunisation. We cannot blame anyone as the entire official machinery is busy battling the pandemic,” he said.

The former judge said he had suggested to the State Deputy Director (Immunisation) Rajani Nagesh Rao that a quick survey on routine immunisation should be done at COVID-19 vaccination centres when parents come for inoculation.

“The staff at the vaccination centres should ask the parents if their children have missed out on any childhood vaccines. Posters on the schedule of childhood vaccinations should be displayed at the centres,” he said.

The National Health Mission’s health management and information system reported a substantial decrease in routine immunisation services relative to the previous year, indicating that in March 2020 at least 1,00,000 and 2,00,000 children missed their BCG and pentavalent (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccines), respectively in the country.

Prashanth Urs, HOD and senior consultant Neonatologist at Apollo Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, who is part of the State’s Paediatric Technical Committee for preparedness of third wave of COVID-19 and the NALSA committee, said the pandemic has put the gains of childhood immunisation at risk. “The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself,” he said.

“A significant reduction is found in the total number of children receiving immunisation during the unlock period, compared to the pre-COVID-19 level. This difference was more significant in booster doses compared to birth doses. There has been no significant catch-up in vaccine beneficiaries by December 2020 despite seven months of unlock raising significant concerns for public health,” Dr. Urs pointed out.

“Without targeted campaigns and effort, there is a legitimate risk for a reversal of gains made through national programmes. A sustained period of disrupted immunisation can result in the accumulation of susceptible individuals, which in turn can lead to disease outbreak,” he explained.

Experts said prioritising measles vaccine would be most prudent given the outbreak potential with even marginal reduction in herd immunity. UNICEF has also recommended that the government should begin “rigorous planning now”, to intensify immunisation programmes once the pandemic is under control.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 7:52:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/covid-19-hits-routine-immunisation/article34940698.ece