SULEIMAN KHEL, Pakistan – When Tariq Nawaz's daughter was born a year ago, he borrowed money to pay for his wife's cesarean delivery. Seven months later, they learned their baby had polio and sold the little bit of jewelry his wife had received for her wedding to pay mounting medical bills. Then the new coronavirus pandemic struck Pakistan, prompting a countrywide lockdown. Still in debt, Nawaz lost his job, his monthly paycheck of $95 and the means to provide treatment for the baby's polio. "It's all I can think of. I feel like my head is going crazy," he said.
Quetta, Pakistan - Pakistan is resuming polio vaccination efforts in high-risk districts across the country after the coronavirus pandemic forced a four-month hiatus in one of the only two countries in the world where the debilitating virus remains endemic. Vaccinators will go door-to-door to vaccinate more than 800,000 children under the age of five in the districts of Karachi, Quetta, Faisalabad, Attock and South Waziristan on Monday, the government-run polio eradication campaign said in a statement. This year, at least 59 cases of polio - a neurodegenerative disease that can cause paralysis of the limbs in young children - have been registered in Pakistan, according to official data. The virus, buoyed by parents refusing to give their children the vaccine and incomplete immunisation campaign coverage, resurged in Pakistan last year, with 147 cases across the country, compared with just 12 the year before. This year, the government says it had planned on stepping up countrywide immunisation drives, but was stymied by the coronavirus pandemic, which made going door-to-door to reach more than 35 million children logistically difficult.
In desperate times, there are many ways to stretch vaccines and speed up inoculation campaigns, according to experts who have done it. Splitting doses, delaying second shots, injecting into the skin instead of the muscle and employing roving vaccination teams have all saved lives -- when the circumstances were right. During cholera outbreaks in war zones, Doctors Without Borders has even used "takeaway" vaccination, in which the recipient is given the first dose on the spot and handed the second to self-administer later. Unfortunately, experts said, it would be difficult to try most of those techniques in the United States right now, even though vaccines against the coronavirus are rolling out far more slowly than had been hoped. Those novel strategies have worked with vaccines against yellow fever, polio, measles, cholera and Ebola; most of those vaccines were invented decades ago or are easier to administer because they are oral or can be stored in a typical refrigerator. The new mRNA-based coronavirus vaccines approved thus far are too fragile, experts said, and too little is known about how much immunity they confer.
ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Disruptions to immunization programs across South Asia due to the coronavirus pandemic are upending attempts to vaccinate millions of children against deadly diseases, UNICEF has warned. The pandemic has interrupted vaccine supply chains and left families fearful of attending clinics, UNICEF said, creating another looming health crisis in a region where 4.5 million children were not fully immunized against diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio. "While the COVID-19 virus does not appear to make many children seriously ill, the health of hundreds of thousands of children could be impacted by this disruption of regular immunization services," said Jean Gough, director of UNICEF's South Asia office, in a statement. "This is a very serious threat." More than 1.5 million people die globally of diseases that could be prevented by vaccinations, according to UNICEF.
For residents of the world's wealthier nations, the highly promising coronavirus vaccines that are about to be approved, along with those that are still in development, guarantee that the pandemic will end. Not soon enough, and certainly not before a winter of continued death and darkness is behind us. But, eventually, it will end. Then, after countless recriminations--Why did we have no proper testing or tracing? How did we allow the President and his team to catastrophically mismanage the worst public-health crisis in a century?--we will move on.