NEW DELHI: Expressing concern over drastic drop of routine immunisation among children specially during the second wave of COVID-19, healthcare experts have warned that there may be a risk of the children contracting vaccine preventable diseases which may re-emerge as a potential challenge.
According to officials, an estimated 20 lakh to 22 lakh children across the country, under the age of one, are targeted for vaccination under national programmes every month which translates into approximately 260 lakh children per year.
Healthcare workers have said that many parents are scared to bring their children for routine immunisation against diseases like DTP (diptheria, tetanus toxoids and pertussis), pneumococcal, rotavirus and MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) in fear of catching COVID-19 infection.
Sumit Gupta, pediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital said vaccination may be delayed by a month or two, but compulsory vaccines must be administered as per schedule to build the right amount of immunity at the right time among the kids.
"We have seen a dropout rate of about 60 per cent during the second wave (of Covid), which is more than last year's dropout rate.
People are scared to visit hospitals, some missed the vaccination because they could not travel due to lockdown.
"Almost all vaccines, including both compulsory (DTP and MMR) and optional (mainly hepatitis A, typhoid and chicken pox) vaccines, witnessed a drop during the lockdown periods in both the years.
"While we may delay the vaccination by a month or two, compulsory vaccines must be administered as per schedule to build the right amount of immunity at the right time," he told PTI.
Manish Mannan, HOD, Paediatrics & Neonatology, Paras Hospitals said delayed vaccination can increase the risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases.
"This may incur the risk of children suffering from these diseases and also lead to outbreak of vaccine preventable diseases," he said.
Kishore Kumar, Founder Chairman & Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru said 70 per cent of routine vaccinations have come down.
"Primary vaccinations are very essential. If primary vaccinations are delayed, there may be a risk of the children contracting the vaccine preventable diseases and these diseases may re-emerge as a potential challenge again," he rued.
Gauri Agarwal, Founder-Seeds of Innocence, talked about the decreased antenatal care visits and institutional delivery rate during the pandemic.
"The aim of vaccinating children is to prevent infectious diseases in them, which has caused significant infant and under-5 mortality even a few decades ago.
While NFHS 3 shows 43.5 per cent children below two years were fully immunised, that is protected against BCG, measles, and 3 doses each of polio and DPT, the rate increased to 62 per cent in NFHS-4.
"During the pandemic, we lost this mileage completely as immunisation of children dropped by as much as 15 per cent. Needless to say, these children, especially in the lower socio-economic strata, will remain more susceptible to infectious diseases. There should have been no delay in administering the vaccines to children, but we slipped due to our singular focus on COVID-19," she commented.
Allaying parents' fear, Agarwal said hospitals have been one of the safest places for vaccination despite treating COVID-19 patients -- the staff is vaccinated against the infection and other infection control protocol is also being strictly followed in every hospital.
"Now that the COVID-19 cases are also reducing, people must come to hospitals and get their children vaccinated," she underlined.
Some hospitals have also started home vaccination drives for children.
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Vijayarathna Venkatraman, CEO, Motherhood Hospitals said the fear and uncertainty of the novel coronavirus infection coupled with the subsequent lockdown has restricted people's movement in a big way.
"This led to a 70 per cent drop in vaccinations in kids ranging between the age group of 0-18 months across our units since the onset of the pandemic.
So, seeing this dismal trend, we have recently started home vaccination drives in all our units in Bengaluru, Noida, Chennai, Mumbai, Indore and Pune.
"So far, we did 1,000 home vaccinations in one month of time, what we should see is that it is important that children should take their routine vaccinations without any delay," Venkatraman added.