Due to the lockdown and the precautionary measures such as social distancing that were taken to curb the spread of the infection, many vaccine programmes had to be temporarily suspended. “Routine immunisation against diphtheria, pertussis, MMR and pneumonia are very important for the immunity of the children, especially newborns. But at present, keeping them safe from COVID-19 is of utmost importance. Though there are permissible waiting period in case of delayed vaccination, the authorities need to frame a protocol for the vaccination of children if the time frame exceeds beyond few months,” said Dr Mohan Kumar, paediatrician, Institute of Child Health.
Delaying vaccine dose would impact the schedule of the subsequent doses, making the child vulnerable to these diseases. However, many experts opine that delayed vaccination is manageable, and is a better case scenario than exposing the children to the pandemic virus.
Dr Priya Biswakumar, consultant paediatrician, Apollo Children’s Hospital, said parents need to follow recommended protocols, and added that it is important to prioritise deferred doses especially against diphtheria, pertussis, polio, MMR, pneumonia and rotavirus.
“In case of urgent vaccinations, particularly in infants, it is recommended that healthcare workers wear N95 respirators or surgical masks, as these will protect the vaccinator from being infected or passing on the infection to the parent and child. Parents and children should wear face masks and maintain social distancing,” she added.
According to the data collected by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, routine immunisation services has been substantially hindered in at least 68 countries, which is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of one living in these countries.
State Immunisation Officer Dr Sekar Chinnusamy said the programme was going on as per the regular schedule till March. However, it was affected in April and May, when India went into complete shutdown because of the pandemic.
“The vaccination programmes have not been suspended completely, but many children could have been left out. The absence of outpatient services at hospitals for a long time also hampered the regular vaccination programme. An intensive programme for the immunisation schedule will be put in place to ensure that all the children get vaccinated,” said Dr Sekar.
The Health Department does not have a record of the number of children who have not received the required vaccination as per the schedule. According to the officials, once the number of COVID cases come down and the threat of the pandemic subsides, they would prepare an estimate on the number of children who need vaccination. They would be administered the vaccines at a special immunisation programme, said officials.