COVID and Political Coup Mayhem Disrupt Childhood Immunization Programs in Karen State

Regular vaccinations services for children in rural areas of Karen State, either under government controlled or ethnic armed organizations, have been disrupted due to COVID-19 restrictions and the current political turmoil.

Parents in rural areas of Karen State said they are unable to get their children immunized during Covid-19 outbreaks and because of the chaos caused by the military coup.

A Kawkareik Township resident told Karen News children due to get their vaccinations are unable to do so as health centers, hospitals and clinics are closed.

The Kawkareik Township resident explained to Karen News.

“In the past, the clinic in the village was opened, so regular childhood vaccinations were given at the clinic, but now there is no staff there. The local hospital is also closed. I heard that at Kawkareik and Kyondoe Hospitals they are offering the immunization service. Unfortunately, the roads are closed because of Covid-19 travel restrictions so we unable to get our children vaccinated.”

Dr Kyaw Swar Myint, director of the Karen State Department of Public Health and Medical Service told Karen News that although childhood vaccinations have not stopped, relevant township health officials have to reschedule immunization services in areas where Covid-19 is most prevalent.

“Vaccination services have not stopped completely, but during this Covid-19 period, everyone is at risk. Currently, Covid-19 outbreaks are high so, there are changes in the way it [services] is administered. In some areas it is better to suspend services because it is too risky for both medical staff and children. It is a good idea to contact the relevant Township health officials to make inquiry regarding vaccination services. If the service is still offered parents can make an appointment to get their children vaccinated.”

In the areas under control of the Karen National Union, the Kawthoolei Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) is providing childhood vaccinations programs in rural areas of Karen State, that are not accessible to the government.

KDHW explained programs have been suspended in some areas during Covid-19 outbreaks as prevention measures, including travel restrictions. The military coup and the armed conflict has affected some areas of Karen State and has made travel difficult for medical staff.

Padoh Saw Diamond Khin, head of the Kawthoolei Department of Health and Welfare told Karen News that their regular vaccination programs were disrupted since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak and they need to find more support to get vaccination doses as government support has stopped since the coup.

“Childhood immunization programs have not been regularly administered since Covid-19 started. The military coup has made it worse. It is also difficult to travel now. In the past, the Burma government provided some vaccines for children, but now we have to find our own support for vaccines. If the Covid-19 situation improves we will restart the vaccination program. As we will no longer get vaccination support from the government, we have to find ways to provide childhood immunization services to our community.”

Since the military coup, health workers have been subjected to threats and violence and arrest, resulting in serious disruption to health services. UNICEF Myanmar estimates, as of last June, as many as one million children are not receiving their regular childhood vaccinations. UNICEF Myanmar points out children missing their vaccinations could lead to risk of catching infections and other diseases.

Children born at hospitals receive Hepatitis B vaccination within 24 hours of birth and 11 other vaccines are given to children aged between 2 months to 5 years. These vaccines include severe TB, diphtheria, Whooping cough (Pertussis), tetanus, Hepatitis B, severe pneumonia, polio, measles, mumps and Japanese encephalitis.

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