The immunization uptake rates in Pakistan are much lower than desired. Major reasons include lack of awareness, parental forgetfulness regarding schedules, and misinformation regarding vaccines. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and distancing measures, routine childhood immunization (RCI) coverage has been adversely affected, as caregivers avoid tertiary care hospitals or primary health centers. Innovative and cost-effective measures must be taken to understand and deal with the issue of low immunization rates. However, only a few smartphone-based interventions have been carried out in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to improve RCI.
The primary objectives of this study are to evaluate whether a personalized mobile app can improve children’s on-time visits at 10 and 14 weeks of age for RCI as compared with standard care and to determine whether an artificial intelligence model can be incorporated into the app. Secondary objectives are to determine the perceptions and attitudes of caregivers regarding childhood vaccinations and to understand the factors that might influence the effect of a mobile phone–based app on vaccination improvement.
A mixed methods randomized controlled trial was designed with intervention and control arms. The study will be conducted at the Aga Khan University Hospital vaccination center. Caregivers of newborns or infants visiting the center for their children’s 6-week vaccination will be recruited. The intervention arm will have access to a smartphone app with text, voice, video, and pictorial messages regarding RCI. This app will be developed based on the findings of the pretrial qualitative component of the study, in addition to no-show study findings, which will explore caregivers’ perceptions about RCI and a mobile phone–based app in improving RCI coverage.
Pretrial qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted in February 2020. Enrollment of study participants for the randomized controlled trial is in process. Study exit interviews will be conducted at the 14-week immunization visits, provided the caregivers visit the immunization facility at that time, or over the phone when the children are 18 weeks of age.
This study will generate useful insights into the feasibility, acceptability, and usability of an Android-based smartphone app for improving RCI in Pakistan and in LMICs.