First pulse polio drive in COVID19 pandemic begins

Just at the front gate of Lal Ded Hospital here, a solitary healthcare worker braved the sub-zero temperature to administer oral polio vaccine as part of the national pulse polio program, the first round in the COVID19 pandemic.

Sheheena Begum, an ASHA worker, found herself in a new role today— a break from COVID19 activities. Wearing a smile, she warmly greeted over 140 parents who came to get their children vaccinated during the six hours she and her blue box of drops stayed at the location. She was part of a network of 42,836 vaccinators who had been deployed for the drive.

Every year, 2-3 rounds of oral polio vaccines are administered to all children aged below 5 years across states under the Pulse Polio Program. However, since January 2020, no such drive had been carried out in India due to COVID19 pandemic.

The ongoing pulse polio program, popularly known as Polio Sunday (Ravivar) will continue for three days and is expected to cover 19,23,790 children.

The J&K Health department reported that 87 percent target had been achieved on the first day. Mop up rounds to administer drops to drop outs will be carried out on Monday and Tuesday.

According to officials, Financial Commissioner Atal Dulloo, while inaugurating the drive at Government Hospital Sarwal Jammu, said the fact that neighbouring countries are still reporting cases makes India and J&K vulnerable. India has been declared polio free.

“We have learnt that no country can call itself immune till a disease has been eradicated completely from the world,” he said while adding that J&K was keeping itself guarded from polio by ensuring complete coverage under the program.

At Lal Ded Hospital, where Shaheena was stationed, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Pandurang K Pole inaugurated the immunization drive with Principal GMC Srinagar Prof Samia Rashid and other officials of health and medical education department. This healthcare worker said the cold made it difficult for many parents with very young infants. “However, overall, the response has been very good. We had a good number today,” she said.

Srinagar’s daytime temperature rose barely over zero degree on Sunday while other districts in Kashmir division witnessed even lower temperatures.

Healthcare workers, Dr Qazi Haroon, State Immunization Officer said a robust system had been put in place to reach the remotest of households where mobility was low due to weather.  “We have 941 transit teams in place,” he said.

He further said that the COVID19 vaccination drive would be temporarily suspended for three days till the Pulse Polio drive is completed. “COVID19 vaccination will restart on 4 February as our staff have been redirected for now,” he said.