Polio vaccination campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan months after COVID-19 left 50 million children without the vaccine, UNICEF said on Tuesday in a statement.
According to the statement, polio vaccination programs In Afghanistan restarted in three provinces in July. A second campaign covering almost half of the country will start in August.
Child vaccination drives, including polio campaigns, were halted in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2020 to avoid the risk of COVID-19 transmission to children, caregivers and vaccinators themselves. As a result, reported polio cases have reached 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free parts of the country.
In Pakistan, an initial round of vaccinations took place at the end of July, covering about 780,000 children. A nationwide vaccination campaign in Pakistan is also slated to start later this month, read the statement.
The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely, UNICEF said.
However, while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, UNICEF is concerned that that up to 1 million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations are not possible in some areas and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated. In Pakistan, the suspension of vaccination drives has also resulted in the expansion and introduction of the disease into new areas of the country.
“Although we have experienced new challenges and a set-back in the fight against polio because of COVID-19, the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.
Polio is a highly-infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.