Saying the country could not afford an outbreak within a pandemic, the Department of Health and medical experts underscored the need for immunization from vaccine-preventable diseases to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This position is strongly aligned with the statements released by the World Health Organization and UNICEF which also highlighted the importance of continuing vaccination at this challenging time.
“Don’t be afraid because children must get immunized. They are at higher risk of getting measles, polio, pneumonia, and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Center for Vaccination.
“Let us all be reminded that first if children and other vulnerable sectors are not vaccinated, they can get sick and can die from these vaccine-preventable diseases,” she added.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wilda Silva, National Immunization Program Director of the DOH, said that the government recognizes immunization as a core health service that should be prioritized even at this time of the COVID pandemic.
“But we also accept the fact that we need to protect our healthcare workers and our community as well. We must strike that balance between giving that life-saving vaccine, protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases, and protecting our health workers against COVID. The position of the DOH when the COVID crisis was at its height was to offer immunization services when feasible,” Silva said.
One of the vaccine-preventable diseases, pneumonia, remains the number one killer disease among children 5 years old and below. The tender for the child pneumococcal vaccine—between PCV10 and PCV13 – is currently being reviewed by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) for comparability and cost-effectiveness.
Asked on the new evidence presented by the WHO saying that the two PCVs in the market are equally effective in protecting the children from pneumonia, Silva said: “When we did the cost-effectiveness analysis, they are both cost-effective. The price of PCV10 and PCV13, they fall on that range na cost effective sila pareho. But, of course, there is another benefit when we chose the PCV13 because it contains three serotypes that are not found in PCV10 before. But now with the new evidence, this was now presented to National Immunization Committee and then it was brought up to the HTAC for further review and we are waiting for the review.”
The PCV tender is massive, which is even bigger than that of the controversial Dengvaxia procurement.
“Currently, there is only one available pneumococcal conjugate vaccine available in the market (PCV13). It is a very expensive vaccine and its eating up more than 60% of the budget of the national immunization program. Mahal talaga pag isang produkto lang ang nasa merkado,” Silva said.
The HTAC review of the PCV vaccines is expected to be completed this June.
For her part, Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, said that like COVID-19, “each opponent virus has its own effective weapon of infecting vulnerable individuals, especially children which is why vaccination is critical even during a pandemic.”
“For now, we already have an effective defense weapon against measles, polio, pertussis, flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, and many other illnesses. We need to fight and beat these to ensure the health of our kids. We should all together make parents aware of how important it is to get vaccinated,” she said.