Resuming routine immunization
Despite initial disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, following a government directive and advocacy and support from UNICEF and partners, life-saving immunization services are now picking up pace around the country
Dhanusha, Nepal: A visibly relieved Aakash Shah walks out of the immunization clinic in Janakpur Sub-Metropolitan City in southern Nepal, holding his young daughter in his arms. Niharika, who is nearing her first birthday, has just been given the measles-rubella and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines.
Aakash describes how anxious the family had been when immunization services were halted around two months ago, after the nation went into a lockdown to control the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“Everyone was already facing a lot of problems,” he says. “On top of that, we had to worry that our little girl would be exposed to other diseases.”
Indeed, like in many other parts of the world, COVID-19 had caused considerable disruption to the health system in Nepal, including in essential services such as support for pregnant women and immunization. One example was the most recent roll-out of the national measles rubella campaign in early 2020 that was being run by the government with UNICEF support, which had been aiming to reach over 3 million across Nepal but was unfortunately interrupted mid-way through by the pandemic.
“We were in a situation where, in addition to the danger of the spread of COVID-19, there was the added risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” explains Lata Bajracharya, UNICEF Health Officer.
“This would have had a big impact on the progress the country has made in maternal and child health over the years.”
It was with these risks in mind that the Government of Nepal endorsed an interim guideline for the operationalization of essential health care services, including immunization. On 22 April 2020, all provinces were directed to resume routine immunization. With that, health centres and clinics have started to run regular campaigns.
For parents and caregivers like Aakash all across the country, the decision could not have come sooner.
“It has lessened my anxiety,” he says. “Now that we’ve gotten her vaccinated, I’m happy.”
UNICEF – with generous funding support from donors such as Alwaleed Philanthropies and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – has been continually advocating for and supporting the Government of Nepal in strengthening the health system and providing life-saving vaccines to children in need.