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Did Covid vaccination defer polio national immunisation schedule?


NEW DELHI: The national polio immunisation programme has been deferred “till further notice” by the Union health ministry as it looks to launch the country-wide Covid vaccination drive on Saturday.

The polio immunisation programme was set to begin from January 17.

The decision was communicated to the states in a letter dated January 9, the same day when the government announced that the first inoculations against Covid would begin on January 16. 

The letter to states, however, does not mention the reason for cancelling the polio drive, and only cites “unforeseen circumstances” for its decision.

Many states though are yet to receive a copy of the circular, but the officials cited the ministry’s order for cancelling arrangements made to give pulse polio drops to millions of children over three days starting January 17.

In fact, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan had said that the polio immunisation will be carried out on January 17, adding that the vaccination is essential to ensure that India maintains overall immunity levels against polio.

The development also comes even as the Union government has been insisting that the coronavirus inoculation exercise — set to cover over 3 crore health and frontline workers in phase 1 — should not affect routine vaccination programmes in the country.

“We have to also ensure that routine vaccinations for other diseases do not get affected because of Covid vaccinations,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said on Monday following his meeting with chief ministers called to discuss the details of the “world’s largest” exercise of its kind.

A similar plea was also made by Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan during the briefing on Covid pandemic response on Tuesday. 

Process to give anti-Covid jabs should not “compromise existing healthcare services, especially national programmes and primary healthcare,” he had said.

India’s pulse polio drive covers over 172 million children who are given oral doses to protect them against the infectious disease caused by the poliovirus.