Army troops help enforce Covid-19 SOPs in the Saddar area on Wednesday.—Reuters
Army troops help enforce Covid-19 SOPs in the Saddar area on Wednesday.—Reuters

KARACHI: The urgency of the safety measures taken for the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted routine immunisation of children in Sindh and it must be countered with a mass information campaign regarding vaccination safety and need, experts said at a webinar, debunking myths surrounding vaccination.

The event was organised by Jinnah Sindh Medical University (JSMU) with the Extended Programme on Immunisation, Sindh (EPI), says a statement.

The webinar titled ‘Myths and facts about immunisation during the pandemic’ was held as part of World Immunisation Week to address the myths and misconceptions about the Covid-19 vaccines.

“The earlier we achieve universal immunisation against Covid, the better it will be for our children who can then receive routine immunisation easily and safely,” said Prof Lubna Ansari Baig, chairperson of the APPNA Institute of Public Health (AIPH-JSMU). She drew the attention of the audience to the impact of Covid-19 on routine immunisation of children and discussed the vaccination record of the past five years compared to last year.

Stress the need to counter propaganda against vaccination

“Almost 40 million children missed the polio vaccine in Pakistan last year while BCG was the most missed vaccine,” she quoted a recent study. “One in two children missed routine immunisation during the lockdown in Sindh, therefore, there is an increasing risk of vaccine-preventable diseases outbreak,” she said.

Dr Mohammad Juman Bahoto, the newly appointed director of the EPI, Sindh, shared that the EPI focused on following deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. Currently, the EPI is providing 11 antigens against 11 diseases.

He said that World Immunisation Week is observed in Sindh to raise awareness of the importance of immunisation and vaccinations. “Currently, the EPI is providing 11 antigens against 11 diseases and many of the preventable diseases are on course to eradication from the country.”

Negative propaganda

Dr Naila Tariq, professor of pathology, noted the prevalence of negative propaganda against Covid vaccination and explained that people could still contract the virus but through mutation, and not because of the vaccination. She recommended exercising complete transparency and extensive sharing of information with the public about the testing, development of vaccines and their adverse effects.

“Sharing data about Covid vaccines and mass information campaign presenting true results are essential to building the public’s trust and confidence in vaccination,” she said. “Governments must set timelines for achieving mass immunity and work towards that goal with all available resources, including public information.”

Dr Shiraz Shaikh, associate professor at AIPH-JSMU, explained how the pandemic had interrupted the childhood immunisation programmes in 70 countries and said that immunisation was among the top interventions of the sustainable development goals 1, 2, and 3.

Dr Zaeema Ahmer, assistant professor at AIPH-JSMU, highlighted some of the most commonly quoted myths about the Covid-19 antigens by the public and clarified that there had been no safety issues to date in the people who had received the vaccination.

Dr Saima Ibad, lecturer at AIPH-JSMU, moderated the session.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2021

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