Getting immunization back on track

Health facilities and healthworkers around the country are working to recover from the disruption to routine vaccinations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure every child is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases

Gulshan Nesa was very concerned her young children would miss getting the measles-rubella vaccine during the COVID-19 nation-wide lockdown. On the one hand, the family had lost a great deal of business because the clothes shop they run was closed the whole time. But more than that, as a parent of five children – four of whom are under five years of age – Gulshan says she was afraid for her children’s health.

“We were already being so careful to protect the children from the coronavirus, but then there were also the other diseases that we were worried they might get if they didn’t receive the vaccinations in time,” she says.

It was therefore with a palpable sense of relief that on 2 July, Gulshan brought all her little ones to an immunization centre running near her home in Kalanki in the capital Kathmandu, where children were being given the measles-rubella or MR vaccine.

Although routine immunization had been disrupted when the nation first went into lockdown in late March 2020 to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the Government of Nepal – thanks to advocacy and support from UNICEF, WHO and other partners – has since issued a directive to all provinces to resume immunization services. The MR campaign, in particular, which had been halted in specific municipalities, has now been resumed.

Gulshan’s family, like all others with children under five in the neighborhood, had been officially notified of the date and location of the MR campaign via an invitation card that was delivered personally to their home by one of the female community health volunteers (FHCVs) who are mobilized in the area. These cards are then brought along by caregivers when coming into their designated immunization centres, and handed over to the FCHVs for registering in their records.

“COVID-19 has complicated our work …. even going door-to-door to deliver the invites in this situation felt risky,” says Kamala Rijal, one of the FCHVs from the Kalanki area. “But we serve the community, and making sure children are vaccinated is crucial to protecting the community’s health in the long-term,” she adds.

And it is thanks to these efforts of the vaccinators and female community health volunteers like Kamala that despite the unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic, over 2.6 million children have received the MR vaccine this year in Nepal across the two phases of the campaign.

Gulshan, for her part, is grateful to the healthworkers. “They’ve done so much to keep us informed,” she says, as she gathers up her children to head home. "I'm feeling very relieved."