Immunization champions defy Dengvaxia fears to defeat measles, tetanus


Posted at Aug 06 2018 03:57 PM | Updated as of Aug 06 2018 04:20 PM

'ImmuniRangers' or volunteers tell the story of 'Si Baki Bakuna' to first graders in Tacloban City. Contributed photo

MANILA -- Through songs and stories, public health workers hope to convince parents in the countryside to have hundreds of children immunized, notwithstanding concerns over a scrapped dengue vaccination program.

Project Bakunanays, started by UP Visayas students in 2017, is being replicated in Tacloban City and Oriental Mindoro province in August, which is also national immunization month.

In Pavia town, which has one of the lowest compliance rates for school-based immunization in Iloilo province, the project's pilot area recorded 100 percent compliance for measles rubella and tetanus diphtheria.

"We have to rise above the fear-mongering and strengthen our information campaign on vaccines," said 23-year-old June Luis Salvador, Project Bakunanays team leader who now works with the Department of Health.

The group won first prize at Unilab's Ideas Positive contest for public health projects in August 2017 and part of the winnings include its implementation in other areas.

Four months later, the Department of Health scrapped a dengue immunization program after French drug-maker Sanofi Pasteur said it could cause more severe symptoms of the disease if given to those who have not had it before.

The characters in one of the storybooks include Baki Bakuna, a boy who overcomes his fear of needles.

The team was advised by Dr. Calvin S. de los Reyes, who crafted a maternal and child health handbook for Tagbanua folk in Palawan. He is set to start teaching at the UP Manila this August.

"It's not a magic bullet for all problems because of Dengvaxia but all efforts to promote school-based immunization should be welcomed," De los Reyes said.

A 'Si Baki Bakuna' storybook that is used to rally support for school-based immunization is shown in this contributed photo

This year, Project Bakunanays is being administered in 9 Oriental Mindoro Schools and 5 others in Tacloban with roughly 70 students per school.

In Tacloban City, some 20 out of 65 parents who were screened for the drive raised concerns over Dengvaxia, said public health worker Hadrian Aguilar.

At least one student mentioned Dengvaxia when asked what comes to his mind when he thinks of immunization, said Aguilar.

Aguilar said the team explains that the upcoming school-based immunization is different from Dengvaxia, as well as the risks of measles and tetanus.

"Mas klaro sa kanila, mas nagiging kampante (It becomes clearer to them and they become mer calm)," he said.

At least one parent immediately signed a consent form after attending one of the sessions, he said. Project Bakunanays partnered with the Department of Education in Tacloban City for the project.

"It's about giving them the right information so it becomes clearer to them," he said. "Children are afraid of injections, but because of our storytelling sessions, they are encouraged to get immunized."

Salvador said project workers also refer questions from parents and children to doctors to help them overcome their fears.

De los Reyes said immunization education is especially useful in geographically isolated and displaced areas.

"This will really help the Department of Health," he said.