ISLAMABAD - Authorities will resume polio vaccination activities on July 20 with a campaign in selected districts after a four-month suspension of all polio vaccination activities due to COVID-19 pandemic.

According to officials of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), Polio Eradication Programme, the government has decided to reach the eligible children with all essential vaccines and relaunch small scale door to door vaccination round since suspension during March in the context of COVID-19.He said that the first round of the campaign will be launched in districts included Faisalabad, Attock, South Waziristan, and parts of Karachi and Quetta with a target to vaccinate almost 800,000 children under the age of five. He said that under the guidance of the Ministry of National Health Services and following the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) guidelines and Polio Oversight Board recommendations, the Pakistan Polio Eradication programme had suspended all polio related activities in the last week of March, except surveillance.

In the meanwhile, all programme strengths and capacities were redirected to support the ongoing COVID surveillance and response efforts at different levels.

The programme has been vigilantly monitoring the evolving risks of COVID-19 as well as the polio and other vaccine preventable diseases across Pakistan. The suspension of immunization activities was due to lockdowns, closure of OPDs and travel difficulties disrupted essential health interventions.

The provisions of essential vaccines to around 700,000 newborns per month were seriously affected while the suspension of door to door campaigns also widened immunity gap among vulnerable children significantly diluting the gains made during December 2019 to March 2020 as the programme was recovering from 2019 crisis. The country is facing widespread circulation of WPV1 and cVDPV2 with heightened risks across Pakistan. “The impact of COVID-19 on our economy and communities is unprecedented. With the disruption of essential immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children are continuously at a higher risk of contracting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination.