Summer, monsoon onset increase chances of measles, influenza
At least 1.5 million children in Uttar Pradesh missed their doses of vaccination due to the nationwide novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, according to the state health department. While the immunisation resumed post-lockdown, experts said it is a healthcare emergency and should not have been stopped in the first place.
“My 23-week-old daughter’s vaccination was due in the first week of April, but we could not get it done due to the lockdown,” said Seema Sachan, who lives in Ghatampur.
She added that even when the hospital reopened in mid-May for vaccination, she could not get the job done as travel was still restricted. Her daughter had to be administered OPV-3, Rota-3, FIPV-2 and Pentavalent-3 vaccines.
According to the health department, 5.5 million children are born every year in the state.
Vaccination came to a halt on March 25 but was resumed in the first week of May, Ved Prakash, general manager, National Health Mission in Uttar Pradesh, who oversees the immunisation programme, said. “Some children may have missed vaccination as public transport was not available,” he added.
He said people should not be worried if the immunisation cycle gets broken because of some delay. Pediatricians, however, were sceptical whether the programme had resumed.
“Even the World Health Organization says immunisation of children is a healthcare emergency and should not have been stopped during the lockdown,” said Ashutosh Verma, pediatric and former vice-president of Indian Pediatric Society.
“We are overlooking other threats like measles and influenza. Both spread in the summer or with the onset of monsoon. Children have not been vaccinated. What if both diseases spread in north India in July?” said Verma.
He said the results of routine immunisation launched by the central government have given excellent results in India in the past 10 years. “But we may lose all those benefits because of coronavirus and the lockdown,” he said.
He added that the situation was more serious in rural areas. Some people are refraining from visiting community health centres (CHC) and primary health centres (PHC) for the purpose for the fear of getting infected.
“If one PHC vaccinated 100 children in a day, it is now vaccinating only 60 children. The role of the state government becomes important. It needs to encourage people to visit CHCs and PHCs for vaccination of children. A campaign has to be launched,” said Verma.
Raj Tilak, a pediatrician from Kanpur said the lockdown had checked not just the spread of coronavirus but also of several germs against which children are vaccinated.
“Except Pakistan and Nigeria, polio has been eradicated from the world. Children will be at risk only if somebody transmits the germ from either of the two countries. And if one considers other diseases such as measles or tuberculosis, the chances of infection were reduced because children stayed at home during the lockdown,” said Tilak.
He added that the risk would have been high if children were not immunised and there was no lockdown. “A child will be vulnerable until and unless he or she is vaccinated,” he said.
Private nursing homes are yet to open in Uttar Pradesh. A few have opened up, but are allowed to handle only emergency or semi-emergency cases.
Doctors in state capital Lucknow recently met Chief Minister Adiyanath and requested him to allow opening of all nursing homes. Similarly, doctors in Kanpur met the district magistrate with the same request. Tilak said private nursing homes should become fully functional without any more delay.
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