The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine childhood immunization coverage and timeliness in India: Retrospective analysis of the National Family Health Survey of 2019–2021 data

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health systems globally. We estimated the effect of the pandemic on the coverage and timeliness of routine childhood immunization in India through April 2021. Methods: We used data from India's National Family Health Survey 2019–2021 (NFHS-5), a cross-sectional survey which collected immunization information of under-five children from a nationally representative sample of households between June 2019 and April 2021. We used a mother fixed-effects regression model— accounting for secular trends and confounding factors—to compare COVID-affected children with their COVID-unaffected siblings (n = 59,144). Children who were eligible for a vaccine after January 30, 2020 (date of the first COVID case in India) were considered as the COVID-affected group and those eligible for a vaccine before this date were included in the COVID-unaffected group. Coverage of the following vaccine doses was considered—Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG), hepatitis B birth dose (hepB0), DPT1 (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, first dose), DPT2, DPT3, polio1, polio2, polio3, and measles first dose (MCV1). Indicators of vaccine coverage and vaccine timeliness (defined as receiving a dose within 45 days of minimum eligibility age) were separately examined. Findings: Immunization coverage was lower in COVID-affected children as compared with unaffected children, ranging from 2% lower for BCG and hepB0 to 9% for DPT3 and 10% for polio3. There was no significant difference in MCV1 coverage. Coverage reduction was greater for vaccines doses given in later age groups. The rate of timely receipt of polio and DPT vaccine doses was 3%–5% lower among COVID-affected children relative to unaffected children. Among population subgroups, COVID-affected male children and those from rural areas experienced the highest reduction in vaccine coverage. Interpretation: Children in India experienced lower routine immunization coverage and greater delays in immunization during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.