Introduction: in 2012, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), rotavirus vaccine and a second dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV2) were introduced into the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in Ghana. According to Ghana's EPI schedule, PCV and rotavirus vaccine are given in the first year of life and MCV2 in the second year of life (2YL) at 18 months. Although coverage with the last doses of PCV and rotavirus vaccine reached almost 90% coverage within four years of introduction, MCV2 coverage did not rise above 70%. The World Health Organization Global Measles and Rubella Strategic Plan established a 2020 milestone to achieve at least 95% coverage with the first and second doses of measles-containing vaccine in each district and nationally. We developed a project to address challenges to delivery of immunizations and other child health services at the 18-month visit and throughout the 2YL.
Methods: from March to April 2016, we conducted a cluster survey of households (HHs) with children 24-35 months of age in three regions in Ghana to assess knowledge, attitudes and beliefs among caregivers about immunization during the 2YL and to collect childhood vaccination history data using vaccination cards. Three independent samples were selected from the Northern (NR), Volta (VR), and Greater Accra (GAR) regions. A survey and direct observations were performed a ta representative sample of health facilities (HFs) providing immunization services in the same regions to further characterize barriers to immunization access, utilization and delivery in the 2YL.
Results: data on a total of 464 children ages 24-35 months were collected in the HH survey: 211 in NR, 153 in VR, and 100 in GAR (response rate > 99%). First dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV1) coverage was (NR: 87%, VR: 96%, GAR: 99%); however, MCV2 coverage was lower (NR: 60%, VR: 83%, GAR: 70%). MCV1 to MCV2 dropout was 32% in NR, 14% in VR, and 31% in GAR. Caregiver awareness of immunization against measles was 69% in NR, 75% in VR, and 68% in GAR yet less than half knew the recommended ages for receiving the vaccine, (NR: 4%, VR: 9%, GAR: 44%). Among 160 HFs participating in the survey (>50 in each region), most lacked a defaulter tracing system (NR: 94%,VR: 76%,GAR: 85%). A varying proportion of HCWs correctly indicated how to record a catch-up first dose of MCV administered to an 18-month-old child in the 12-23 month immunization register (NR: 38%, VR: 55%, GAR: 67%) and on the vaccination card (NR: 54%, VR: 53%, GAR: 76%). Although more than half of caregivers would accept text messages, (NR: 57%, VR: 78%, GAR: 96%) including reminders, related to their child's immunizations, < 10% HFs were utilizing this practice.
Conclusion: challenges encountered with the establishment of an immunization visit beyond the first year of life included knowledge gaps among caregivers, high dropout rates between MCV1 and MCV2 in all study regions, and a lack of defaulter tracing systems in most healthcare facilities providing childhood immunizations. Targeted strategies that promote behavioral, cultural, and policy changes are needed to strengthen 2YL child health service delivery and improve vaccination coverage.
Keywords: Ghana; defaulter tracing; dropout rate; immunization; measles-containing-vaccine; second year of life.