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Vaccination at birth must continue in all hospitals in all zones: Health ministry

Vaccination at birth will continue in hospitals or clinics irrespective of the categorisation of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) containment zone, the Union health ministry said in an advisory on immunisation issued on Thursday.

While in other cases, providing vaccination doses as per the schedule will only be allowed outside the containment and buffer zones, and in green zones. In containment and buffer zones no outreach programme is allowed to be conducted to mobilise the target population; however people who walk-into a health facility to get their child vaccinated should not be turned away, and adequate precautionary measures must be taken during the process.

The advisory was issued amid fears that immunisation services were being entirely stalled, putting young children at risk of contracting vaccine preventable illnesses that could become life-threatening.

As a standard practice, immunisation services are delivered through the following modes: birth dose vaccination in health facilities where the child is born and another option is for walk-in immunisation sessions at fixed health facilities such as district hospitals, community health centres, primary health centres or sub-centres etc.

Doctors say while vaccination at birth will not be a problem it is the other doses that need to be carefully planned.

“Vaccination at birth means that you are likely to be in a hospital, and it won’t require an extra visit. The next vaccination is usually six weeks onwards, and in the first six months at least three visits will be required. For a reasonable period it can be delayed but not indefinitely. Since Covid is here to stay, there’s a need to plan better for the remaining doses after discussing with the doctor such as instead of going to a hospital where other patients are also going to be present, people can opt for vaccine clinics,” says Dr Nitin Verma, senior pediatrician, Max Healthcare.

Under government of India’s universal immunisation programme (UIP), vaccines are given for 12 diseases to protect children and pregnant mothers from vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs).

“No active mobilisation to the health facility be carried out; every opportunity is to be utilized for vaccinating beneficiaries if they have already reported at the facilities; ensure social distancing and hand washing etc., to be adopted at health facility level for vaccinating the pregnant women and children who have reported to these facilities,” says the health ministry directive.

The list of areas under containment zone and buffer zone in a district is updated on weekly basis. Any area exiting a containment or buffer zone can start facility based and outreach immunisation activities as in areas ‘beyond buffer zone’ after a minimum gap of 14 days.

“In the context of Covid-19 outbreak, for delivery of immunisations services for different zones health facilities will adequately follow guidelines from ministry of home affairs and ministry of health pertaining to Covid-19 that will be the primary reference points… practices of social distancing, hand washing, and respiratory hygiene in all sessions; birth dose vaccination at health facilities would continue irrespective of zones… the State and District administration should make a local assessment of Covid-19 risk before starting the outreach or health facility-based immunisation with mobilisation of beneficiaries. Similarly, an area enlisted as a ‘containment/ buffer zone’ should stop health facility-based sessions and outreach sessions.”

For areas beyond buffer zones, and in green zones, there are no restrictions to be followed, except for taking a call at the local level on the government outreach programmes.

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