Many parents were unable to follow the recommended vaccination schedule during the pandemic due to strict lockdown measures and lack of access to the nearest immunization centre
The school corridors are once again filled with smiles and laughter. Children across the globe are once again donning their uniforms and filling their bags with books. The air is filled with anticipation, pride, and excitement. After being confined for nearly two years, both children and parents are looking forward to finally interacting with the outside environment. Following an incessant fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is finally standing up on its feet. The pandemic had significantly disrupted our lives, placing an unprecedented strain on the public healthcare system.
The development of the COVID-19 vaccines helped us step closer to a point where protection from infection was made possible across populations. However, with the reopening of schools, the universal decline of routine vaccination among children during the pandemic has the potential to create havoc in our lives. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO), 23 million children skipped basic vaccines through routine immunization services in 2020, 3.7 million more than in 2019. India also saw a sharp drop in DTP3 (three doses of diphtheria, tetanus toxoid and pertussis) vaccine coverage from 91 per cent in 2019 to 85 per cent in 2020.
Why is the preschool booster important?
COVID-19 has taught us a valuable lesson about the importance of protecting against vaccine-preventable diseases through timely vaccination. The routine childhood vaccines not only protect your child from deadly diseases such as influenza, polio, tetanus, and diphtheria but also keep other children, the elderly and high-risk groups safe by reducing their chances of getting infected. However, over time the antibodies produced by the early vaccines start declining making the child vulnerable to infection.
Booster vaccines given to preschoolers (4 to 6 years of age) play a vital role in boosting your child’s immunity and completing the circle of protection before the schools open since exposure to the school environment can increase the chances of infection. Any delay or absence of booster vaccination can leave the child exposed to easily preventable diseases and endanger other vulnerable individuals who come in contact with the child. These boosters are more important now since most preschoolers (4 to 6 years of age) are entering the school environment after a prolonged interval of being at home.
Keeping a track of your child’s immunization
Most vaccinations recommended for children are completed between the age group of 0 to 2 years. Many vaccines may need booster doses at different ages and in varied combinations. Age-appropriate vaccination as recommended by the health authorities should be followed by parents to ensure maximal protection. The vaccination schedule recommended by The Indian Academy of Pediatrics Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Immunization Practices (ACVIP) includes a birth dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV), an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) schedule at 6-10-14 weeks, an IPV booster at 15-18 months, and a preschool booster between 4 to 6 years.
After the routine vaccines that are given to children at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age, administering the booster doses as per the schedule is key to all-around protection. The first booster, given at 16 to 18 months, protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Hemophilus Influenzae Type B. The second or the preschool booster is given at 4 to 6 years of age and protects the child against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and polio.
Catch up vaccination is the need of the hour
Many parents were unable to follow the recommended vaccination schedule during the pandemic due to strict lockdown measures and lack of access to the nearest immunization centre. But there is a convenient way to bring your child’s vaccination schedule back on track. Restart your child’s vaccination by opting for ‘catch up vaccination,’ wherein multiple vaccines are given in one sitting with the least permitted interval between two doses to complete the schedule as soon as possible.
Moreover, the convenience of combination vaccines such as the 4-in-1 booster vaccines makes catching up with the schedule easier. It can ease your worry about your child’s susceptibility to diseases once he/she starts school.
Parents are now making up for so many things that they missed out on during the pandemic. Even in the case of vaccinations, there is no time to wait! Reach out to your paediatrician and make routine vaccination, along with the appropriate boosters, your top priority to prevent any further disruption in your child’s life due to preventable diseases. As children step into a brand-new academic year, let’s help protect their health by keeping a track of their vaccination schedule and administering vaccines without any further delay.
The author is a Mumbai-based paediatrician. Views are personal.