The National Pulse Polio vaccination drive was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year as well. (HT FILE PHOTO)
The National Pulse Polio vaccination drive was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year as well. (HT FILE PHOTO)

Mumbai: Anti-polio drive deferred, but no need to worry, say doctors

Though doctors assured that the decision will not lead to resurgence of polio, a section of medical experts warned that further gaps in polio immunisation may diminish the herd immunity in society.
By Rupsa Chakraborty, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 12:32 AM IST

Health workers were relieved on Wednesday as the Union health ministry deferred the National Pulse Polio vaccination drive indefinitely in view of the upcoming large-scale Covid-19 vaccination drive.

Polio or poliomyelitis is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus which spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis.

Though doctors assured that the decision will not lead to resurgence of polio, a section of medical experts warned that further gaps in polio immunisation may diminish the herd immunity in society.

The upcoming mass Covid-19 immunisation programme was clashing with the anti-polio drive which would have put additional pressure on already overworked health workers. Taking note of this, a decision to defer the polio vaccination was taken, providing some breathing space to health workers.

“From Saturday, around 130,000 healthcare workers will start Covid-19 vaccination. Along with this, managing polio vaccination would have been troublesome and would have led to improper and incomplete door-to-door immunisation,” said an officer from BMC’s immunisation programme. “So, it’s better to wait rather than doing shoddy work,” he added.

Even last year, the programme got affected due to the outbreak of the pandemic. “When the pandemic started, a large number of migrants returned home and there were restrictions on movement of people. As a result, many children missed their polio doses,” said Dr Mangala Gomare, executive health officer of Mumbai civic body.

While skipping polio dose is likely to raise concern among parents about the safety of their infants, doctors said the vaccine given in the polio programme is just an additional shot to maintain herd immunity in the society. “Presently, we are in the mop up phase of the polio disease after announcing the eradication in 2014...The door-to-door polio vaccination programme is deferred due to the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive. But the resurgence of polio is extremely unlikely as a reasonable amount of children may have already gained herd immunity,” said Dr Hemalata Arora, senior consultant, internal medicine and infectious diseases, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Vile Parle.

Dr Bela Verma, head of the department of paediatric medicine at Sir JJ Hospital, said that every child till the age of five years is given five doses of polio vaccine. The dose given during the immunisation programme is an additional one to maintain herd immunity in the society. “This is one dose is given as an extra other than the routine immunisation. So it will not have any impact if children miss this,” she added.

Doctors also said that the primary concern should be Covid-19 vaccination. “This is the time to prioritise the immediate impacts. Covid-19 has put the world at a standstill. We need to focus on it first as we already have polio under control. With the completion of the Covid-19 vaccination, the government will start with polio immunisation,” said Dr Paras Kothari, head of the paediatric surgery department at Lokmanya Tilak General Hospital, also known as Sion hospital.

However, doctors also warn that any further delays might wear off the herd immunity which has been attained after years of hard work. “Reinstating the programme (polio vaccination) is of utmost importance as the herd immunity levels may diminish if the polio vaccine remains unavailable for a long duration,” said Arora.

Dr Verma also said that during the ongoing pandemic, all forms of immunisation have been badly affected due to the lockdown. “Finally, with the relaxation of lockdown, we have started getting children for immunisation and after months, things are getting back on track,” she added.

Every year, during National Immunisation Day (NID) commonly known as Pulse Polio Immunisation programme which was scheduled for January 17, vaccinators immunise children between the age group of 0 and 5 years in their door-to-door survey. Mumbai civic body vaccinates around 800,000 children during the five days of the national immunisation programme.

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