Around 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 were prevented because of vaccination, according to the World Health Organization. However, in the Philippines, vaccination rate continues to decline, putting children at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
Data from the Department of Health’s National Immunization Program gathered in May reveal the vaccination rate in the Philippines hit an all-time low of 7 percent in the first quarter of the year due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Prior to ECQ, rate stood at 16 percent average immunization rate per quarter—lower than the ideal target of 23-24 percent per quarter, with a cumulative target of 95 percent vaccination rate per year to achieve herd immunity.
In her recent talk via the University of the Philippines Med Webinars, Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, past president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, reminded the public about the value of vaccination and possible secondary health crises emerging in the midst of the pandemic if routine immunization services were to be interrupted.
“As we focus on COVID-19, we should not neglect the delivery of basic healthcare services, and that includes immunization,” emphasized Dr. Ong-Lim.
She continued, “We were low to start with, and we’re going even lower from the start of 2019,” citing the decline as seen in the measles outbreak recorded early this year.
According to DOH, from January 1 to April 18 this year, there were 3,250 cases of measles, 98 percent higher than the 1,240 cases during the same period in 2019. The Health department traced the outbreak to vaccine hesitancy, or delay or refusal in accepting recommended vaccination services despite availability.
Measles, along with mumps, rubella, varicella, rotavirus, polio, tetanus, and diphtheria among others are vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
“Unfortunately fewer childhood vaccines have been given during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are reminded once again that to avoid outbreaks of VPDs, it’s essential to continue to provide vaccinations and well-child visits,” said Dr. Ong-Lim.
She observed, “Parents are quite concerned with exposing their very young children to environments outside the home firstly because of restrictions of movement, and also because of a well-founded concern about infection and perhaps a lack of information about whether these regular or basic healthcare services continue to be available.”
But Dr. Ong-Lim emphasized that the current pandemic should not hinder parents from giving their children the immunization they need.
She encouraged healthcare workers to adhere to the proper measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission, such as using personal protective equipment and ensuring thorough sanitation with each patient interaction, to ensure patient’s protection and assure parents of their children’s safety.
Other best practices applicable to parents include encouraging appointment settings versus walk-ins, appealing to clinics to set up signage to guide the patients along a single direction (one entry, one exit), and observing proper physical distancing at all times.
For those in areas where routine vaccination schedules have been interrupted, or where facilities have temporarily closed, she encouraged parents to bring their babies and children to their pediatricians for catch-up immunization as soon services are available.