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Imo State Launches “Big Catch-Up” Vaccination Drive to Reach Unvaccinated Children Affected by COVID-19 Disruptions

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Imo State Big Catch-up Vaccination Drive- In response to the significant number of children in Imo State who missed their scheduled Pentavalent vaccinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Imo State Government, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, has initiated a robust “Big Catch-Up” vaccination drive. The campaign aims to reach out to eligible children who have not received a single dose of routine vaccines, particularly the Pentavalent vaccine which protects against Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type b.

According to data from 2020, approximately 50,000 children below the age of one in Imo State were unable to receive the Pentavalent vaccine due to the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccine, which is ideally administered at the sixth week of age, plays a crucial role in safeguarding children against five life-threatening diseases.

The “Big Catch-Up” vaccination drive is being hailed as a pivotal step towards bridging the immunization gap among children in the state. Through this initiative, the Imo State Government aims to ensure that all eligible children receive the vital vaccines they missed. The collaborative effort with the WHO and other partners aims to make these vaccines available at no cost to parents or caregivers.

Cynthia Ogajua, a 37-year-old mother, shared her experience of missing her 9-month-old son’s scheduled vaccines because she gave birth at home and did not seek healthcare facility services. She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to have her child vaccinated, stating, “I was not aware that he can still receive the vaccine after missing it. I am happy the children still have the opportunity to receive the vaccines. We appreciate the government and its partners for making the vaccines available at no cost.”

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The campaign’s reach extends beyond children, as adults also benefit from integrated health services provided during the drive, including COVID-19 vaccinations and other essential healthcare measures. Eze David Onumaraekwu Egwunwoke, the traditional leader of Akwakuma, located in Owerri North Local Government Area (LGA), Imo State, commended the initiative and expressed his support for parents to ensure their children receive the life-saving vaccines.

Aligned with the Government of Nigeria’s vision to integrate all Primary Health Care (PHC) services under a unified plan, the “Big Catch-Up” campaign successfully integrated COVID-19 vaccination with Routine Immunization (RI) services and Vitamin A supplementation. The campaign resulted in 211 children receiving the pentavalent and OPV vaccines, with 162 receiving the rotavirus vaccine. Notably, 28 Zero dose children received their first dose of the life-saving vaccines.

Additionally, 51 individuals were vaccinated against COVID-19, while 56 were screened for hypertension and 66 for diabetes during the campaign. The initiative’s effectiveness in reaching populations with limited access to regular health services and integrating various health programs alongside immunization was highlighted by Rev. Sister Dr. Maria-Joanes Uzoma, the Executive Secretary of the State Primary Healthcare Agency.

Dr. Uzoma applauded the WHO for supporting the Imo State Government’s efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage and emphasized the organization’s contributions in providing technical assistance and capacity-building for health workers in the state. The WHO’s commitment to revitalizing primary healthcare in the state was praised by Dr. Uchechukwu Odom, representing the State Primary Healthcare Agency.

Acknowledging the successful vaccination exercise, Mr. Nwabuisi Augustine, a UNICEF Consultant, assured continued support from UNICEF in terms of vaccines and logistics. Dr. Wadzingi Williams Bassi, the WHO Imo State Coordinator, reiterated the campaign’s ultimate goal of protecting more children, adults, and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases. He emphasized that the “Big Catch-Up” drive aligns with the WHO’s immunization agenda of reaching all zero dose children with life-saving vaccines.

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Dr. Bassi highlighted the significant number of children who missed out on crucial vaccinations between 2019 and 2021 due to COVID-19 disruptions and emphasized the campaign’s commitment to reaching these children and restoring routine immunization programs.

The launch of the “Big Catch-Up” vaccination drive in Imo State aligns with the WHO’s global call to address vaccination gaps resulting from the pandemic. Alongside immunization efforts, the campaign also encompassed COVID-19 vaccinations for adults, screening for non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and health education on key household practices.

With the theme “The Big Catch-Up,” the 2023 campaign aims to catch up with children who missed vaccinations, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously strengthening routine immunization programs in Imo State. The collaborative efforts between the Imo State Government, WHO, and other partners are paving the way for a healthier and more protected population in the state.

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