WHO alarmed over disruption of children’s routine vaccination

Indian children amongst worst hit in missing polio, measles & DTP3 vaccines


July 17, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

WHO alarmed over disruption of children’s routine vaccination

Lancet says in 2020, 30 million children missed doses of DTP3 and 27 million missed measles (Photo/Unicef)

Study by Lancet says millions of children across the world have missed out on vaccinations against measles, diphtheria and polio due to severe disruption of health services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. India figures high on this dubious list.

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Shunu Sarkar, a resident of New Ashok Nagar in east Delhi, says she has had enough of government’s obsession with Covid-19, while not taking preventive measures against other diseases, especially those impacting children. “I have been checked for about four times in three weeks for Covid-19, and I am fed up. Just because we are poor and don’t have much power in our hands doesn’t mean we are to be checked whenever the government feels like. I am normal like any other, and this is frustrating. I have a granddaughter who has just turned one, and she still hasn’t received her Tetanus and Measles vaccine. I am worried about the child, and my daughter more than myself.”

Sarkar works as a domestic help in middle-class households of neighbouring areas. She is not alone in worrying about the missed vaccinations of children. Her predicament is shared by many others from similar economic and social background. “These basic vaccines for children have been guaranteed to us since ages, and now suddenly we have been deprived of them without another thought on the part of the government,” says her son Rajeev Sarkar, citing many of his friends whose children too have not been administered these crucial vaccines.

According to Lancet, a reputed medical journal, disruptions caused by the pandemic has turned detrimental in fight against other illnesses that pose threat to the health of millions around the world.

In the report, Lancet said that routine immunisation services faced stark challenges in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the most widespread and largest global disruption in recent history and that the impact of the disruption was not yet over. “Although the latest coverage trajectories point towards recovery in some regions, a combination of lagging catch-up immunisation services, continued SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and persistent gaps in vaccine coverage before the pandemic still left millions of children under-vaccinated or unvaccinated against preventable diseases at the end of 2020, and these gaps are likely to extend throughout 2021. Strengthening routine immunisation data systems and efforts to target resources and outreach will be essential to minimise the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, reach children who missed routine vaccine doses during the pandemic, and accelerate progress towards higher and more equitable vaccination coverage over the next decade,” said Lancet.

The report says that from January to December 2020, 30 million children missed doses of DTP3 and 27 million missed doses of measles.

Lancet says that routine immunisation services have taken a back seat and the governments are not yet ready to normalise the process to ensure that the battle against the most common and most potent of childhood preventable diseases is not lost even as the world struggles against Covid-19.

Measles alone is known to have taken the lives of over 2,07,000 people just a year before the pandemic in 2019. This current trend shows that Covid-19 is soon to be replaced if the government doesn’t opt for an overall approach to the ongoing crisis.

The Lancet goes on to say that South Asia and Africa were amongst the most impacted due to the missed vaccinations. In the South Asian region, India dominated the number of missed vaccines as the The Lancet says that India’s measles vaccine coverage is known to have dipped below 86 pc and that of diphtheria and tetanus to be below 75 pc of the eligible number of children.

Poverty is another factor that stands as a hindrance which has been further facilitated by the pandemic adversely impacting the normalcy of the health systems. This has put stress on both Covid-19 vaccinations and routine immunisations, the report goes on to say.

Both the World Health Organisation and the UNICEF say that in India around 3.04 million children are known to have missed their vaccine dose against diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus. Also when it comes to DTP-3 coverage, India, according to the WHO, has experienced decline from 91 pc to 85 pc of the target population.

Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom , expresses concern over the situation, warning that a breakdown of routine immunisation programmes can lead to a steady spike in deaths surpassing Covid-19 itself, especially in the Indian subcontinent. Some doctors say that the state of routine vaccinations has improved in 2021 when compared with the vaccinations last year. “What people say is only half-truth, things were different in 2020, now the world is returning back to normal and so have the routine immunisations for children especially. I, myself have been responsible for vaccinating about 20 toddlers in a day starting from one year olds for Polio and measles. The government had begun its immunisation programmes long back during the months of January-February, 2021,” says Deepanita Mukherjee, a gynecologist based in Patna.

Save the children, an NGO based in Delhi says that children’s immunisation programmes have resumed satisfactorily in India. “Routine immunisations did face hesitation during the tumultuous period of 2020, when all routine programs both government and private had to be suspended. But, now the system has revived again though it is not as systematic as it was before the pandemic but, in our NGO almost all of the children below the age of five have been vaccinated under the government routine programme,” says Ameet Wadekar of Save the Children.

Though the immunisations may have resumed, but they are yet to reach all the affected families and persons like Shunu Sarkar may yet have to wait longer before her grand-daughter gets her routine vaccination.



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