The last week of April is dedicated to celebrating World Immunization Week and bringing light to the importance of vaccines and routine immunization.
The theme of the World Immunization Week 2022 is “long life for all,” emphasizing that people of any age can benefit from the lifesaving effects of vaccines.
Health organizations around the world aim to bring people together to promote proper education about vaccines, eradicate the fear surrounding them, and help them live long and full lives by protecting everyone against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant drop in the number of immunized children.
UNICEF data shows that over 23 million children have missed out on their basic vaccinations since the height of the pandemic in 2020 [i].
The Philippine Foundation for Vaccination fears the threat of an outbreak of measles, polio, and other vaccine-preventable diseases if children keep missing out on their routine vaccination.
Fear and complacency have taken over the parents of this generation. People refuse to take their children to vaccination sites due to the threat of the coronavirus infection. Immunization rates continue to go down despite the COVID-19 outbreak being contained.
The solution for vaccine hesitancy lies in education, innovation, and readiness. The World Immunization Week aims to raise awareness not only about the importance of vaccines but also about the issues in the healthcare system that are causing the decline of vaccine coverage.
Routine Immunization for Children Compromised Over COVID-19 Pandemic
Dr. Enrique Tayag, Director of the National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health (DOH) shares the challenges health workers are facing following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the vaccination coverage for children and infants during the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) Lay Panel Discussion last April 21, 2022 at Lipa, Batangas.
“Ang ating mga bata ay hindi nadadala sa mga health centers, lalo na yung mga 0-2.” said Dr. Benito Atienza, President of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA). “Kailangan natin i-engganyo ang mga magulang na dalhin ang mga bata… ngayon na ang cases natin sa COVID-19 ay mababa. Ito na ‘yung nararapat na [panahon] para dalhin sila sa health centers, pabakunahan at… [gawin] ang tinatawag na catch-up immunization.” Catch-up immunizations are for children who missed out on their basic vaccines.
Dr. Maria Wilda Silva, Head of the DOH’s National Immunization program said that hospitals are on high alert for children with fever or rashes, fearing that a measles, polio, or COVID-19 outbreak may be looming upon us.
Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the PFV reminded people not to rely on house-to-house service and instead encouraged parents and guardians to bring their children to health centers to be vaccinated for faster and more complete service.
Solutions for Increasing Vaccine Coverage
Dr. Silva said that the solution lies in vaccine education and readiness of immunization sites. Misinformation surrounding vaccines has fostered fear amongst people. Hesitancy also grows when parents bring their children to immunization sites only to end up getting denied due to lack of supply and personnel. Educating people about vaccines and ensuring that supply and personnel are present at immunization sites can greatly influence high vaccine coverage.
Dr. Maria Cristina Ignacio-Alberto, pediatrician and member of the PFV shared that the DOH and private sectors are creating ways to innovate the vaccination process such as holding drive-through vaccinations in modified parking lots.
Dr. Tayag informed that Thursdays and Fridays of the last week of the month are now dedicated to catch-up vaccinations, according to an advisory from the DOH.
Experts Entreat Public to Listen and Prioritize Immunization
“Long life for all.” Dr. Tayag reiterated this year’s World Immunization Week theme, and reminded everyone that vaccines are not only for children but also for those who are most vulnerable like seniors and pregnant women.
“Ang bakuna po ay nakakapagligtas ng buhay. Sana po ay lahat ay pumunta sa ating mga doctor at mga health center para po makapagpabakuna tayong lahat.” Dr. Ignacio-Alberto averred.
“‘Pag mahal natin ang ating mga anak, gusto natin ay lumaki sila ng malusog, masaya, at walang sakit. Ang pagbabakuna ay ang pinakamabisang paraan para maiwasan ang mga nakamamatay na sakit.” said Dr. Silva. “Ang Department of Health ay nagbibigay ng libreng bakuna para sa ating mga anak na may edad 5 taon pababa [para sa catch-up immunization] Pero sa routine immunization, ang gusto natin ay tamang bakuna sa takdang oras. ”
“Ang Philippine Medical Association po ay binubuo ng mahigit 100,000 na mga doctor, kabilang po diyan ang ating mga eksperto sa bakuna. Sana po tayo ay maniwala sa ating mga eksperto. Ang PMA po ay nakikiisa sa WHO (World Health Organization) at sa DOH para sa pagpapaliwanag ng tamang pagbabakuna.” Dr. Atienza reassured.
“Napakarami nating eksperto dito sa Pilipinas. Huwag po tayo maniwala sa mga nananakot. Magtanong po tayo sa mga eksperto. Marami po tayong organisasyong nagtutulong-tulong. Ituring nating mga bayani ang mga ito.” Dr. Bravo advised.
“Nandiyan na po lahat ng impormasyon na kailangan niyong malaman. Napakahirap po sa bawat isa sa amin na magbigay ng paliwanag. Hindi po matatapos sa isang oras lamang sapagkat ang kaalaman sa pagbabakuna ay patuloy po. Ang isa lang pong kaalaman na dapat manatili sa atin: vaccination saves lives.” Dr. Tayag concluded.