ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will resume polio vaccination activities on July 20 with a campaign in selected districts after a four-month suspension of all polio vaccination activities due to Covid-19 pandemic.
According to an official of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), Polio Eradication Programme, the government has decided to reach the eligible children with all essential vaccines and relaunch small scale door to door vaccination round since suspension during March in the context of Covid-19.
He said that the first round of the campaign will be launched in districts included Faisalabad, Attock, South Waziristan, and parts of Karachi and Quetta with a target to vaccinate almost 800,000 children under the age of five.
He said that under the guidance of the Ministry of National Health Services and following the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) guidelines and Polio Oversight Board recommendations, the Pakistan Polio Eradication programme had suspended all polio related activities in the last week of March, except surveillance.
In the meanwhile, all programme strengths and capacities were redirected to support the ongoing Covid-19 surveillance and response efforts at different levels.
The programme has been vigilantly monitoring the evolving risks of Covid-19 as well as the polio and other vaccine preventable diseases across Pakistan. The suspension of immunisation activities was due to lockdowns, closure of OPDs and travel difficulties disrupted essential health interventions.
The provisions of essential vaccines to around 700,000 newborns per month were seriously affected while the suspension of door to door campaigns also widened immunity gap among vulnerable children significantly diluting the gains made during December 2019 to March 2020 as the programme was recovering from 2019 crisis. The country is facing widespread circulation of WPV1 and cVDPV2 with heightened risks across Pakistan.
“The impact of Covid-19 on our economy and communities is unprecedented. With the disruption of essential immunization services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, children are continuously at a higher risk of contracting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Dr Zafar Mirza.
“As we learn to live with Covid-19, I urge all parents and caregivers to ensure vaccination of their children to protect them from all vaccine-preventable diseases including the paralyzing polio. Ensuring safe vaccination and well-being of children is our utmost priority,” he said.
The resumption plan prepared by the national team in consultation with provinces was presented and endorsed by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Polio Eradication in Pakistan during meeting in June advising robust safety measures.
The plan encompasses large scale case response rounds in August and September and 3 nationwide campaigns during last quarter of 2020. The meeting of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) held on July 4, chaired by the prime minister, and having all chief secretaries on board, appreciated the resumption of essential immunization services and urged all stakeholders to urge the optimal quality of supplemental immunization activities envisaged in the plan to resume polio immunisation activities.
“We are initially aiming to target areas with continuous poliovirus circulation to protect children against the crippling polio disease during this case response. Staff are being especially trained on preventive measures to be followed during vaccination, including protocols of door-knocking and marking, keeping the desired physical distance inside homes, and ensuring safe handling of a child while vaccinating and finger marking,” said Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar, the coordinator of the NEOC, Polio Eradication Programme.
“The door to door campaigns will also be utilised to raise awareness on Covid-19 preventive measures and referring mothers and children for other essential vaccinations as well as the antenatal care services,” he added while requesting support of all segments of society, particularly parents.
Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour Afghanistan. Pakistan is currently facing a challenging situation in polio eradication with the upsurge of polio cases. So far in the current year, a total of 58 polio cases have been reported – 21 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 20 from Sindh, 14 from Balochistan and three from Punjab.