PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has said vaccination of the residents against the novel coronavirus will continue though the World Health Organisation has declared that Covid-19 is no longer a public health emergency.

Until now, 70 per cent of the province’s population has got themselves inoculated against the virus.

“The world health agency has pronounced that coronavirus is no longer a serious health problem, but vaccination will continue,” director of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation Dr Arif Khan told Dawn.

He said the province’s health workers had shown the best performance regarding the people’s inoculation against coronavirus.

“Around 70 per cent of the population has so far been immunised against Covid-19despite hardships, including misinformation and people’s mistrust, which caused opposition to vaccination,” he said.

EPI director says vaccine jibes administered to 70pc population

According to Dr Arif, after the WHO declared in early May this year that Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, the people have become more calm and are less interested in receiving Covid vaccine shots, but 1,800 health centres in the province continue to offer those jabs.

He also said the government, in an effort to improve immunisation numbers and protect the people’s health, had made Covid-19 inoculation mandatory for the children’s admission to schools, procurement of land documents, passports, and surgeries.

The official said the virus had so far killed over 30,000 people countrywide, including 6,375 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The WHO’s Covid-19 announcement doesn’t mean that we should do away with protective measures, including vaccination, as there are reports of spikes in infections and emergence of new virus strains. We are urging people not to stay unvaccinated,” he said.

Dr Arif said several myths were related to the vaccination that it wasn’t allowed in Islam before the advent of the disease and that vaccine jibes were meant to cause infertility and impotence, but they’re all false as the vaccination was against Covid-19 as well as 11 other vaccine-preventable diseases.

“We enlisted the support of religious scholars and community elders creating the demand for immunisation. Religious scholars are telling people that it is their religious obligation to take care of their health and stay healthy,” he said.

The official said the “innovative approaches” adopted by the health department on the directives of the government had improved the coverage of polio

immunisation.

“As our vaccination workforce has been obsessed with Covid-19 inoculation, routine immunisation has got hampered and reported a 70 per cent decline,” he said.

Dr Arif, however, said following the decline in Covid-19 cases, the EPI carried out special campaigns and covered those left out in the routine immunisation.

Meanwhile, other health officials said the WHO’s announcement that Covid-19 was no longer a public health emergency didn’t indicate that people should cease getting vaccinated against the virus.

They said the health department had initiated initiatives at the grassroots using religious and community leaders to persuade people that vaccination was necessary to stay protected against the disease.

The officials said many people believed that vaccination was against Islam, and that treatment was permitted in Islam only after the emergence of any sickness.

They said polio vaccination was badly hit by misinformation, but they hoped that the demand for Covid-19 inoculation would increase through public awareness.

Dr Yasar Yousafzai, director of the Public Health Reference Lab at the Khyber Medical University Peshawar, told Dawn that the WHO had declared though the emergency phase was over but the virus hadn’t ceased to exist, so vaccination and precautions should continue.

“Preventive measures against Covid-19 should continue. The people receiving anti-cancer drugs, those suffering from chronic heart, kidney and lung diseases, and other vulnerable groups must be given the vaccine jabs,” he said.

Dr Yasar said seven million Covid-19 PCR tests had been conducted by his lab, which still received samples from the suspected cases.

He said the WHO announced the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Jan 30, 2020, but it declared it a pandemic six weeks later due to the spread of infection globally.

“Incredible skills and selfless dedication of health workers played a significant role in the prevention and control of the pandemic in our province,” he said.

The director said besides the investigative side, the doctors, nurses and paramedics also played a vital part in limiting the harmful impact of the pandemic.

He said more than 50 healthcare professionals, including senior consultants, lost life to the virus after contracting it while treating patients in hospitals.

“Vaccination against Covid-19 is still significant,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2023

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