Pakistan's polio vaccinators brave the snow to deliver vaccines. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Polio vaccinators trekked through waist-deep snow and braved freezing temperatures during Pakistan’s first polio campaign of the year – demonstrating the commitment of the frontline workers to achieve the goal of a polio-free Pakistan.

The video of the polio workers, with their masks, cardigans and winter caps on, battling harsh weather in northern Pakistan, received millions of views and shares on social media. “Our frontline polio heroes are unstoppable… These brave women make their way through several feet of snow to deliver vaccines to children” said the official account. The video was shared by hundreds of Pakistanis including celebrities who described them as “the real heroes of Pakistan”.

The challenging terrain of Pakistan’s mountainous north means vaccinators must walk many kilometers to reach some of the remote villages and town. “The dedication of the polio workers, especially women, to vaccinate each child despite harsh challenges is truly exemplary,” said Saima Karim on social media.

First campaign of 2021

Pakistan launched the five-day anti-polio drive on January 11 to vaccinate over 40 million children under the age of five across the country. During the campaign, a supplementary dose of Vitamin A will also be administered to children aged 6 to 59 months to help build general immunity among susceptible children to protect them from polio and other diseases, the health officials said.

Around 285,000 polio frontline workers will go door to door to vaccinate the children while adhering to strict COVID-19 precautionary measures such as wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, and maintaining a safe distance during the immunisation.

“Our aim is to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of children. This is key to reduce the immunity gap and to protect our children against polio and other diseases” said Dr. Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the PM on health. The government is “committed to reach the goal of a polio-free Pakistan” which requires the full support of the parents and caregivers, he added.

Immunity boost

Pakistan carried out six high-quality anti-polio campaigns in 2020 as the frontline workers “defied the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic” to ensure the polio vaccination. “In 2021, we are looking forward to sustaining the gains achieved in 2020.

Repeated campaigns are imperative to give a quick immunity boost to children under the age of five,” said Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar, the director general of Health and coordinator of the national polio eradication initiative.

“With our highly committed frontline workers, and the cooperation of parents, Pakistan aims to restrict the geographic scope of poliovirus circulation to the high-risk areas only and get closer to the goal of eradication in 2021,” he added.

Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour Afghanistan.