New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) Even as the last three years of Covid-pandemic, has among many things, severely affected routine immunisation of children, health experts on Saturday urged the need to catch up on the time lost.
World Immunisation Week, celebrated in the last week of April, aims to highlight the collective action needed to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases.
An estimated 67 million children missed their routine immunisation, entirely or partially, between 2019 and 2021 including 48 million not receiving any vaccine, according to Unicef’s State of the World’s Children report released last week.
“Fear of exposure, disruption of healthcare services, misinformation, economic challenges and focus on controlling Covid-19, led to a significant decline in vaccination rates for both adults and children,” Nameet Jerath, Senior Consultant, Paediatric Pulmonolgy and Critical Care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, told IANS.
“Because of the pandemic, everybody’s focus was only on Covid vaccinations, and basic essential vaccinations like polio, the basic primary and secondary vaccinations, measles, mumps, rubella, all these were neglected,” added Rahul Verma, Director, Neonatology & General Paediatrics at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.
A WHO and Unicef 2022 report noted that due to the Covid pandemic, the world has experienced the “largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in approximately 30 years”.
India had 2.71 million children in 2021 who did not receive even a single dose of vaccine against DTP3. About more than 3.5 million, accounting for 15 per cent of the world’s total, missed the vaccine in India, as per the report.
“We have to catch-up with vaccination and immunisation services, on a high priority, and all the vaccinations should be completed in a shorter time as compared to the routine schedule, which is supposed to be given over the next three months,” Dr Verma told IANS.
“Vaccinating a child is crucial as it can safeguard them from life-threatening ailments, especially in infants who have vulnerable immune systems. Educating people and dispelling myths about vaccines is crucial, given the abundance of misinformation. India has an extensive infrastructure to deliver vaccinations throughout the country,” Praveen Khilnani, Chairman – Pediatrics, Pediatric Pulmonology and Pediatric Critical Care, Medanta, Gurugram.
Poor vaccination during Covid pandemic was also reflected in the recent surges seen in the case of measles in the country. At least 40 children died in 2022 due to measles and around 10,000 kids were infected.
Meanwhile, India in 2022 launched an Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI) 4.0 aiming to cover more than 3 crore pregnant women and 2.6 crore children through the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in 416 districts across 33 states/UTs in the country.
The latest UNICEF report showed that India (along with China and Mexico) is among the three countries with the highest vaccine confidence in the world, with all other countries registering a decline.
India was able to halt the immunisation backslide of 2020 despite the severe Delta-related disruptions in 2021, and the situation did not worsen, the report stated.
Besides children, the health experts also stressed the need for routine vaccination among adults.
Immunisation for adults include flu vaccines, pneumococcal, typhoid, MMR and meningococcal vaccines, which can prevent hospitalisation and death. Newer vaccines include those against herpes zoster, cervical cancer (HPV Vaccine). A vaccine for Malaria (R-21) is also in the pipeline.
“Adult immunisation is often a neglected concept in India. Not only patients but also health care providers are also not vigilant on this aspect. Covid vaccination programme has taught us how timely immunisation can prevent hospitalisation and death,” Ajay Aggarwal – Director and Head, Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital Noida, told IANS.