COVID-19 restrictions are no barrier to successful HPV vaccination
With Svetlana's mind on looking after her twin boys and her 10-year-old daughter, keeping up with her children’s vaccinations was the last thing on her mind since COVID-19 outbreak.
Svetlana, 36, used to go out at the weekend with her young family. Since the COVID-19 restrictions, however, she stays at home in Tashkent, only going out in a mask and gloves to buy food. With her mind on looking after her twin boys and her 10-year-old daughter, keeping up with her children’s vaccinations was the last thing on her mind.
“To be honest, I was not even thinking about vaccinations during the pandemic.”
The HPV vaccine protects girls and women against cervical cancer, a cruel disease with few symptoms in the early stages that is, worldwide, one of the top-killing cancers. Last year, UNICEF and WHO supported the MoH to make sure that nine-year-old girls in Uzbekistan received their first dose of the vaccine in polyclinics and schools all over the country. Together the agencies also worked to dispel rumours about the vaccine, communicate how it can contribute to good health and train teachers and medical staff in schools.
Despite the quarantine conditions, in May this year, a second dose was due, without which the vaccine is ineffective. Polyclinics informed parents directly that vaccinations would be going ahead and shared information on the appropriate safety measures that parents and children should take.
“We already received the first dose of the vaccine, so there was no question about whether we should get the second dose or not,” says Svetlana. “It was a necessity. That is why we went to the polyclinic to get vaccinated, even during the pandemic.”
“As a mother, I will do everything to protect my children from disease. That is why I always vaccinate my children.”
Since schools are closed, parents took their daughters to special vaccinations points in polyclinics. In order to prevent transmission of COVID-19, full precautions were taken; medical workers took temperatures, and after disinfecting their hands, parents and girls, all wearing masks, entered the building in rotation, observing social distancing at all times so that they never had to come into contact with other families. Health workers wore protective overalls, masks and gloves. UNICEF and WHO provided messages and videos on immunization safety measures through social media channels as well as printed brochures for parents and instructions for medical staff.
“Children do not like injections. I cannot say that my daughter was happy to get the second dose of the HPV vaccine. She was there because there was a need to go,” says Svetlana. However, she adds, “As a mother, I will do everything to protect my children from disease. That is why I always vaccinate my children.”
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, thanks to parents like Svetlana, and cooperation between the MoH, WHO and UNICEF, the second round of HPV vaccination was very successful and achieved a coverage rate of around 96%. This means that thousands of cases of cervical cancer will be prevented in the coming years.