Containing Coronavirus: Major risk if immunisation programmes delayed or cancelled

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Published: April 15, 2020 6:30 AM

Measles claimed 140,000 lives in 2018, most of them babies and children. So, any delay or cancellation may significantly increase risk of deaths.

If immunisation efforts are affected in states like Jharkhand and Bihar, the results can be disastrous.If immunisation efforts are affected in states like Jharkhand and Bihar, the results can be disastrous. (Representative image)

There is no doubt that containing the spread of coronavirus is a top priority. However, by delaying or cancelling immunisation programmes, countries may be risking public health while addressing a public health crisis. A joint statement by WHO, Unicef, and others—American Red Cross, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Protection, and the UN Foundation—on the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) notes that efforts to curb COVID-19 have resulted in delays, or halts in routine immunisation programmes; a COVID-19 focus may result in measles immunisation programmes getting delayed in 24 countries, and cancelled in 13. To put this in perspective, this delay, according to Gavi, the vaccine alliance, will result in at least 13.5 million people in 13 of the world’s least developed countries being deprived of vaccines against diseases like measles, polio, and human papillomavirus. Measles claimed 140,000 lives in 2018, most of them babies and children. So, any delay or cancellation may significantly increase risk of deaths.

For India, the risk is bigger. The country has low rates for institutional deliveries in rural areas. Vaccination camps, thus, are an essential tool for routine immunisation. If immunisation efforts are affected in states like Jharkhand and Bihar, the results can be disastrous. States must take seriously the government directive for essential health services to continue, and WHO’s appeal that immunisation and childbirth care not be halted during the lockdown. One way of doing this would be to carry out door-to-door vaccination. If India does not address this issue now, it may come out of battling one disease to find itself having to battle another.

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