A RECENT survey of countrywide routine immunisation coverage has revealed some encouraging results. According to the Third-Party Verification Immunisation Coverage Survey, around 76pc of children in the country younger than two years have been administered the full dose of initial vaccinations under the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation. This is an increase of around 10pc in the number of fully vaccinated children in the last three years. In 2018, as per the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, the percentage of fully vaccinated children below the age of two years was 65pc. Of the remaining children, nearly 18pc have been immunised partially while almost 6pc have not been administered any kind of vaccine. The immunisation survey also shed light on regional disparities in vaccination coverage. Punjab had the highest coverage with 90pc of children under two receiving full doses of initial vaccines, followed by 89pc in Azad Kashmir, 68pc in KP, 61pc in Sindh and 38pc in Balochistan.
Indeed, the improvement in routine coverage is significant and will go a long way in lessening the number of deaths among young children in the country. Despite considerable improvement, Pakistan’s infant mortality rate still remains relatively high, with 67 children out of 100,000 dying before their fifth birthday. According to the federal health ministry’s own figures, around 17pc of these deaths can be prevented by increasing routine vaccination coverage. The EPI offers free of cost vaccination for children till the age of 15 months. Vaccines for 11 illnesses — polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, tetanus, haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, diarrhoea, pneumonia and typhoid — are administered to children at a large number of EPI centres across the country. One hopes that the health authorities including EPI officials will keep up efforts to maintain this improvement and further increase vaccination coverage in areas where it is lacking most — Sindh and Balochistan — so that more children can be saved from infectious diseases that have been eradicated in most of the developed world.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2021