Background: While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of immunization delivery systems globally, the devastating impact of the pandemic on immunization delivery is most pronounced in low and middle-income countries like Pakistan. We conducted a qualitative study to capture the views and experiences of parents and healthcare workers (HWs) and assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on childhood routine immunization (CRI) and COVID-19 vaccination in Pakistan. Methods: We used a qualitative research design with a purposive sampling approach. Semi-structured interviews (via telephone) and focus group discussions (via Zoom) were conducted with parents/child caregivers and HWs, respectively. All qualitative interviews were conducted between February and July 2021 from three sites (two urban and one rural) in Sindh, Pakistan. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded for a team-based thematic analysis. Results: Overall, most parents and HWs indicated a strong trust in the benefits of CRI; nonetheless, a substantial disruption in the delivery and uptake of these services was also reported. The barriers towards CRI included closed vaccination centers, drastic reduction in outreach programs, lack of information for parents/child caregivers on vaccine availability, fear in the community regarding vaccine safety, limited vaccine supply, and a lack of healthcare staff. For COVID-19 vaccines, challenges cited included skepticism about the reality of the pandemic and confusion over COVID-19 vaccines due to conflicting (or mis-or-dis) information. Both participant groups showed a willingness to integrate COVID-19 vaccination into Pakistan’s Expanded Program for Immunization if required in the future. Conclusion: During the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions of regular immunization delivery in Pakistan were not due to parental unwillingness to vaccinate, but rather to social and logistical challenges caused by a rapidly changing context and difficulties in providing vaccination services safely. Barriers to vaccine access and concerns about COVID-19 exposure during clinic visits also contributed to uncertainty regarding immunization services early in the pandemic. For catchup campaigns and future pandemics, more than focusing interventions on persuading people, strategic approaches to building resilience through system-based interventions, such as investing in surge capacity in the immunization workforce to bounce back quickly after the first shock are required.
- COVID-19 pandemic
- COVID-19 vaccines
- Immunization systems
- Resilient immunization system
- Routine childhood immunization
- Vaccine communication strategy
- Vaccine hesitancy