MUMBAI: As the COVID-19 crisis intensifies across the nation, parents of infants are caught in a dilemma regarding the issue of vaccination of children, as most of the state and city hospitals have deferred the process of immunisation to avoid crowding in the premises.
While health experts say a delay in vaccination could leave a child susceptible to a preventable disease, an equally strong fear for parents is the risk of exposing their children to the virus during a visit to their paediatrician for vaccination.
The process of immunisation has stopped completely in Mumbai alleged Dr Saeeda Khan, corporator of Kurla, who is a member of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s health committee.
According to her, the very purpose of the National Immunisation Scheme or National Immunisation Schedule will be lost if children miss out on certain vaccines. "Many vaccines are compulsory and are strictly age appropriate.
Two months have already been wasted, and if we still do not act on this and keep deferring the immunisation process, it will lead to major issues such as the increase in infant mortality rates," Khan told The Free Press Journal.
Khan has written to the BMC commissioner highlighting the issue and requesting him to intervene in the matter. Health experts also said the delay of a vaccine dose may impact the schedule of the subsequent doses, making the child susceptible to a disease which they would be protected from if vaccinated.
The mortality and morbidity risk for most of the vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs) under the age of five is higher than COVID-19. The step to delay the immunisation process was taken to keep the virus at bay as it has often been repeated that children are more vulnerable to the virus.
However, the postponement has led to anxiety among parents. While most parents are taking serious precautions to keep their children safe and healthy, when it comes to vaccinations, they are worried about the uncertainty over what course of action to take.
While there are many private clinics in the city where the vaccination process is operational, many experts believe that might not be the best thing to do as children below 5 years are more susceptible to the infection. Many parents who can afford vaccination for their children at private clinics are avoiding the visit to their paediatricians out of fear of exposing their child to the deadly virus.
Charulata Margi, the resident of Deonar, said "My son is just two and a half months old, apart from BCG, other vaccinations are still pending. It will become risky if the lockdown is extended for a month more."
Dr Hema Yadav, a Dahisar-based paediatrician said, "It is a difficult time, parents need not panic. However, there are a few age-appropriate and compulsory vaccines that cannot be missed out or delayed. This issue should be discussed at the government level and resolved at the earliest.
It is a dilemma even for us as at the time when we are working on eradicating measles and rubella, the delay in vaccination process might lead to hampering our campaign of eradicating these diseases.”
Additional Municipal Commissioner, Suresh Kakani said, "This a central scheme, hence we have to follow guidelines issued by the central government. We will discuss this matter with health experts and see how we can resolve it.
However, if the central government has decided to defer the immunisation, I am sure they might come out with revised guidelines soon considering the seriousness of the matter.”
When contacted Dr Archana Patil, State director of the Directorate of Health Services said, “All immunization programmes until April are completed. So far, they have not received any complaints of infants not getting immunised.”