Over 50,000 children under the age of two across the country have missed their regular immunization schedule during the Covid-19 pandemic. And it is estimated that more than 6,000 children in this age group have not taken any doses of the vaccine.
“These children are at high risk of contracting various diseases, which could be prevented with regular vaccination,” said an official from the Ministry of Health and Population, asking not to be named. “Although vaccination coverage of children in the regular immunization program has become normal now, children who have not been vaccinated during the Covid-19 pandemic are a matter of serious concern.”
Immunizing children is the government’s number one priority, under which it provides 13 types of vaccines against a range of diseases, including measles-rubella, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, rotavirus, Japanese encephalitis and typhoid under the regular free vaccination program.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many health-related programs, including regular vaccination in many places across the country.
With public transport shut down and fear of Covid infection among the population, hundreds of children missed their regular vaccination schedules across the country when the pandemic was at its peak.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Population admit that the routine immunization program has been affected by the pandemic despite government efforts to maintain services.
“We have to admit that a lot of children missed the vaccine during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director of the Division of Family Welfare, Department of Health Services. “They are still at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. We are working to launch a special program to find and inoculate children who missed vaccination during the pandemic. »
Officials said the ministry would seek the help of female community health volunteers to track down the children, who have not received all the vaccines, and inoculate them.
“We will ask health workers to find unvaccinated children and inoculate them,” said Sagar Dahal, head of the national immunization programme.
Regular immunization against childhood diseases is one of the most successful programs in Nepal, with a high coverage rate. The country has made remarkable progress in reducing the under-five mortality rate and the regular immunization program is credited for this success.
In 2019, the country was estimated to have reduced its infant mortality rate to 31 per 1,000 live births, or 78% from the 1990 level.
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, global measles cases increased by 79% in the first two months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. WHO and UNICEF warn of conditions conducive to severe outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Pandemic-related disruptions, growing inequities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children unprotected against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” reads- one in the WHO report. “The risk of large outbreaks has increased as communities relax social distancing practices and other preventive measures for Covid-19 implemented at the height of the pandemic.”
Doctors warn that interrupting the regular immunization program could pose a serious health risk to children and increase the infant mortality rate.
They said the risk of infection and the death rate could increase if vaccines are not given in time.
“We have a deferral schedule, which means if children have missed a vaccine, they can be vaccinated within five years,” said Dr Jhalak Gautam, former head of the national immunization programme. “Relevant authorities should follow the schedule of delays, find children who missed the vaccine and inoculate them.”
Nepal still has a high infant mortality rate and the country needs to do a lot to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Nepal’s current neonatal mortality rate is 21 per 1,000 live births and infant mortality rate is 32 per 1,000 live births. The numbers have stagnated for several years.