Millions of pregnant women and their children inside them in India are facing the risk of contracting several infectious diseases after the country's vaccination program remains defunct due to the coronavirus pandemic. Health centers in rural and urban areas across the country have stopped vaccination of pregnant women largely due to two reasons - one is the risk of coronavirus while visiting the centers and the other is that healthcare workers in Anganbadis are busy on pandemic duty.

[Representational image]Reuters

Vaccination of pregnant women is considered highly important as it protects the mother against vaccine-preventable infections as well as the fetus via the transfer of antibodies. In India, two doses of tetanus toxoid (TT) are given to the pregnant woman in order to boost the maternal antibody response and passive antibody transfer to the infant.

According to the national immunisation schedule, the first dose of the TT should be administered as soon as the pregnancy is detected or in the third month and the second dose is given after four weeks. However, ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists), whose primary duty is to monitor the health of pregnant women, postpartum women, and newborns, are now busy in coronavirus duties.

Pooja, a resident of Rajasthan's Alwar district was told by the ASHA worker that the vaccination program is suspended for now and she should not visit the center. She is in the second month of her pregnancy and also suffers from blood deficiency. She told IBTimes that the ASHA worker has suggested she should eat well for now and when the coronavirus crisis is over, she will be administered the vaccine.

Not just in Rajasthan, this has been the case across the country. Immunisation, family planning, nutrition and women's health awareness programmes also remain suspended. When we tried to seek clarification, Rohit Kumar Singh, Additional Chief Secretary, Medical & Health And Family Welfare Department, Rajasthan, didn't respond to our calls and messages.

What doctors say about delayed vaccination

Obstetricians say a slight delay of 15-20 days may not have any major serious health issues as such but it does pose the risk of infection in pregnant women.

"They are administered tetanus vaccine during the pregnancy. Since they are at home due to the lockdown, there are less likely to get the infection. However, there is a risk of infection if they do get some kind of injury at home and in that case, they will need the tetanus vaccine," said Arshi Dutt, a Gurgaon-based obstetrician.