Worried about your child’s delayed immunisation? Here’s what you need to know

"A delay in vaccination is manageable. Having said that, it is important to administer deferred doses as soon as it is feasible. Missed vaccination puts the child at risk of contracting the disease the vaccine was meant to protect against."

The lockdown has brought many things to a standstill. The health sector has been reorienting itself for a while now, to keep up its fight against the crisis, while also making sure other services go on normally. Among other things, it is being said that India will see a rise in delayed vaccination cases as a large number of children remain unvaccinated/partially vaccinated. While vaccinations are fundamental to one’s health and life, it is imperative to understand that the delay in vaccination caused by the current lockdown due to COVID-19 is unavoidable.

And to understand its ramifications on the child’s health, indianexpress.com reached out to an expert. Here are some frequently asked questions that Dr Vijay Yewale, Head of the Institute of Child Health, Apollo Hospital, Mumbai answers for parents around the country.

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How important is it to get a child vaccinated?

Children are at a high risk of contracting infections because of their developing immune system. Immunisation plays a pivotal role in every child’s life as it helps protect them against infectious diseases. It is crucial to administer vaccines as per the recommended schedule for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. With routine immunisation programmes, India has made significant gains over infectious diseases like polio, measles, rubella and small pox. Without vaccination, we will be at a threat of these vaccine preventable diseases.

For instance, primary vaccines such as Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT), Polio, Pneumococcal Conjugate and Rotavirus are scheduled at 6-week, 10-week and 14-week of life and must be prioritised. Similarly, vaccine for measles should be scheduled at completion of nine months of age without fail.

Vaccination is important for babies, adults and healthcare workers, which can provide broader infection control. They should be up to date with their vaccinations, including annual vaccination from seasonal influenza.

What kind of health complications can arise due to delay in vaccination?

Doctors, healthcare experts and epidemiologists have developed a schedule to administer the vaccines based on the risk for a particular disease. Even though it is important to follow the schedule, the delay we are facing today is unprecedented. It is difficult to prepare for such unforeseen situations as one cannot take a vaccine before its recommended date. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), subsequent vaccine doses have permissible waiting period for interrupted or delayed immunization. Hence, a delay in immunisation is manageable.

Having said that, I urge parents to get their children vaccinated with the deferred doses at the earliest. Post exposure to rabies or injuries requiring tetanus vaccine, it is recommended to avoid delay and vaccinate immediately.

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What do you think is the biggest fear of parents right now, amid the pandemic?  

Delay in vaccination can be overwhelming for new parents. And with the current lockdown there are concerns about infections, visits to their pediatricians, delay in administering vaccines, etc. We get calls from anxious parents asking about the same. I advise parents to be in touch with their paediatricians who can guide them on delayed immunisation and precautionary measures. Also, please take necessary precautions and be safe during the pandemic, such as social distancing and adequate hygiene precautions; wear a mask and protect the child as well during doctor visits.

What about mothers who have just given birth and need doctor appointments for themselves and their babies? What is it that they should know/keep in mind?

It is advisable to get newborn babies vaccinated with initial set of vaccinations like BCG, OPV and Hepatitis-B at the maternity hospitals itself. New mothers should also take necessary safety precautions for their regular doctor visits. To avoid unwarranted exposure to COVID, minor consultations for the baby/mother are advised over a call. Paediatricians should pace the visits basis prior appointments to follow the social distancing protocol. In case of urgent vaccinations, parents should also ensure that the child doesn’t show influenza like symptoms and limit the child’s caregiver to one. Infected or quarantined mothers should get their children vaccinated, on advice of their treating physicians.

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Should parents be worried about their child getting infected due to delayed vaccines?

As mentioned earlier, delay in vaccination is manageable. Having said that, it is important to administer deferred doses as soon as it is feasible. Missed vaccination puts the child at risk of contracting the disease the vaccine was meant to protect against. In the meanwhile, taking precautions and being safe during the pandemic is important. Consumption of nutritional food and proper hygiene are also a must to help reduce the possibility of any infections before immunization.

Apart from the set of vaccinations mentioned above, I strongly recommend the latest strain of influenza vaccination to be included in annual vaccination schedules. According to WHO, the influenza vaccination must be prioritised for pregnant women, children between the age bracket of six months and five years, the elderly, individuals with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart conditions, and healthcare workers.

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