The Philippines begins mass vaccinations after polio returns years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.
“This is for the welfare of my child,” Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child’s mouth at the Manila slum they call home.
Miranda’s child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13-million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.
The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive—with ice cream vendors and music—but the stakes for the campaign are high.
Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.
Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.
The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunization coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.
The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass program in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.
A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.
According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunization rates get too low.
On Monday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III himself led the Synchronized Polio Vaccination in Lanao del Sur and other areas in Mindanao as part of the Department of Health’s (DOH) “Sabayang Patak kontra Polio.”
“We urge all parents and caregivers, health workers, and local government units to protect their children and communities against the poliovirus by participating in the synchronized vaccination in high-risk areas in Mindanao and in NCR,” Duque said.
He also told parents and caregivers to completely vaccinate their children, following their routine immunization schedule.
“I remind parents and caregivers that aside from immunization, you need to practice good personal hygiene: to wash hands regularly, use toilets, drink safe water, and cook food thoroughly,” the Health Chief said.
“Today marked the kick-off for the first round of vaccination in Lanao del Sur, Marawi City, Davao del Sur, and Davao City. “
Duque said the campaign will be expanded to the whole of Mindanao on November 25, 2019, and will be concluded with the last round of vaccination on January 6, 2020.
The National Capital Region also began its second round of vaccination today, with its last round scheduled on November 25, 2019.
The national response that has been mounted by the DOH, in close coordination with local government units and national agencies, and with support from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, began in Manila in August.
Polio is a highly contagious disease transmitted through the fecal-oral route. It is caused by the poliovirus and may result in life-long paralysis and even death. But it is vaccine-preventable.
The Synchronized Polio Vaccination campaign aims to boost immunization coverage against polio by giving three doses of the oral polio vaccine to all children five years old and below, regardless of their immunization status.
Full vaccination against the poliovirus is the best way to prevent the transmission of the disease. With AFP