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July 13, 2020

Polio vaccination activities resume from July 20

Islamabad

July 13, 2020

Islamabad : Carrying a burden of 58 polio cases so far this year, 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.

Districts included in the first round are Faisalabad, Attock, South Waziristan, and parts of Karachi and Quetta; the target is to vaccinate almost 800,000 children under five years of age. The resumption plan prepared by the national team in consultation with the provinces was presented to and endorsed by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Polio Eradication in Pakistan during a June 2020 meeting, advising robust safety measures. The plan encompasses largescale case response rounds in August and September and 3 nationwide campaigns during last quarter of 2020.

Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour Afghanistan. The country is currently facing heightened risks with widespread circulation of WPV1 and cVDPV2. So far in the current year, 58 polio cases have been reported including 21 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 20 from Sindh, 14 from Balochistan, and 3 from Punjab.

The Pakistan polio eradication programme had suspended all polio-related activities, except for surv­ei­llance, in the last week of March. In the meanwhile, all programme strengths and capacities were redirected to support the ongoing Covid-19 surveillance and response efforts at different levels through vigilant monitoring of evolving risks of Coronavirus as well as polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The suspension of immunization activities 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; 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.

“With the disruption of essential immunization services due to the pandemic, children are continuously at a higher risk of contracting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services. “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 polio. Ensuring safe vaccination and well-being of children is our utmost priority,” he added.

“We are initially aiming to target areas with continuous poliovirus circulation. 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, Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre, Polio Eradication Programme.

“The door-to-door campaigns will also be utilized to raise awareness on Covid-19 preventive measures and referring mothers and children for other essential vaccinations as well as the antenatal care services,” Dr. Safdar added, requesting support of all segments of society, particularly parents.

The meeting of the National Command and Operations Centre held on July 4 under the chair of the Prime Minister with all Chief Secretaries on board appreciated the resumption of essential immunization services and urged all stakeholders to pursue optimal quality of supplemental immunization activities envisaged in the plan to resume polio immunization activities.