A black and white shot of a doctor giving a vaccine to a man in India.
Article/journal, Innovation, South Asia, Reach Alliance, Munk School

Overcoming vaccine deployment challenges among the hardest to reach: lessons from polio elimination in India

After more than 30 years of efforts to eliminate polio, India was certified polio free by WHO in 2014. The final years prior to polio elimination were characterised by concentrated efforts to vaccinate hard-to-reach groups in the state of Uttar Pradesh, including migrant workers, religious minority Muslims and impoverished communities with poor pre-existing social support systems. This article aims to describe the management strategies employed by India to improve the deployment and acceptance of vaccines among hard-to-reach groups in Uttar Pradesh in the final years prior to polio elimination.

Three main management principles contributed to polio elimination among the hardest to reach in Uttar Pradesh: bundling of health services, local stakeholder engagement and accountability mechanisms for public health initiatives. In an effort to market the polio campaign as an authentic health-oriented programme, vaccine acceptance was improved by packaging other basic healthcare services such as routine check-ups and essential medications. India also prioritised local stakeholder engagement by using influential community leaders to reach vaccine hesitant groups. Lastly, the accountability mechanisms developed between non-profit organisations and decision-makers in the field ensured accurate reporting and identified deficiencies in healthcare worker training. The lessons learnt from India’s polio vaccination programme have important implications for the implementation of future mass vaccination initiatives, particularly when trying to reach vulnerable communities.