MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday called for volunteers, particularly in the medical sector, to pitch in for administering COVID-19 jabs to children for the upcoming vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 set to begin in early February.
The DOH targets 12.5 million children in that age group to receive the jab.
Dr. Eric Tayag, director of the DOH's Knowledge Management and Information Technology Service, said that while COVID vaccination for adults has already been expanded to include pharmacies, the rollout will need dedicated vaccine teams.
"Kami sa Department of Health ay nananawagan sa pediatricians natin sapagkat malaki-laki rin ang bilang ng mga batang babakunahan--over 12 million," Tayag said at a webinar organized by the University of the Philippines (UP).
"So kagaya niyan hindi pwede ang mga pharmacist, kailangan talaga natin ang marami po sa ating nanay para nang sa ganoon mag-volunteer at magbakuna."
Tayag also gave assurances to his colleagues who would continue to serve despite the continuing spread of COVID-19 cases.
"Huwag po kayong mangamba kung sakali kayo ay mag-volunteer. Kailangan namin kayo, sapagkat paano babakunahan kung walang magbabakuna?"
Guidelines for the implementation of the rollout are expected to be released by the National Vaccination Operations Center by next week, according to NVOC chair Usec. Myrna Cabotaje.
Also pending are guidelines from the DOH's Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) and the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG).
Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received an emergency use authorization from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 5 to 11 year olds, issued last December 22.
The DOH said the jab approved for the age group has a different diluted formulation, which would be part of the training for those administering the vaccine.
As with the rollout for jabs for 12 to 17 year olds which began in the country in October 2021, the agency will implement a "phased approach" to the rollout, said Dr. Razel Nikka Hao, the officer-in-charge director of the DOH's Disease Prevention and Control Bureau.
This would mean a smaller sample of vaccine recipients in the National Capital Region (NCR) before expanding to other parts of the country.
Hao added dedicated vaccine sites, teams, and days will be needed for the rollout to prevent mix-ups in the vaccine, especially with the different formulation.
The sites are expected to be prepared and inspected beginning next week, followed by the putting up of town halls and other activities to promote the jab.
Vaccination in schools and other leisure sites, she added, could be considered in the future once restrictions are lowered and face-to-face classes resume.
"In the first few weeks we will be starting with a couple of sites first to see if there will be additional implementation concerns we have to address before a more larger rollout. And similarly, like what we saw in the adult group, kapag pulido na ang lahat, that’s when the demand generation activities will come in," Hao said.
PREPARE PARENTS, CHILDREN
Tayag reminded pediatricians and other health professionals to give parents ample time to understand how the vaccine would benefit them and what to prepare for when their children get jabbed.
"Hindi dapat tayo nagmamadali. Talagang bibigyan natin ng sapat na panahon para maipaliwanag ang pagaalala, takot, agam-agam ng mga magulang," he said.
Among the things parents could do to alleviate fears among children, he added, is to describe the vaccination as "pisil" (pinch) rather than "turok" (prick).
During the vaccination, guardians can also distract them, have them close their eyes, or hold their hands to minimize any pain or unpleasantness they could experience. The kids can also be given gifts after.
"Kailangan maintindihan ng mga bata na ito ay proteksyon para sa kanila at sa mga kasama nila sa bahay, kasama na rin ang mga kalaro nila kung balang araw babalik ang paglaro sa ibang bata," Tayag said.
Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP), noted that based on the Phase 3 clinical trials for the Pfizer jab, the most common adverse reactions among children in the 5-11 age group were vomiting and fever.
However, she stressed the benefits of vaccines over its risks, such as reducing transmission and even absences from school.
"Ang mga bakuna ay mabisa at ligtas para sa mga bata," she said.
The PIDSP along with the Philippine Pediatric Society released a statement on Monday reiterating its recommendation for the vaccination of age-appropriate groups against COVID-19 using duly-approved vaccines.
The groups noted that while those the age group have remained less severe compared to adults, the children can still be hospitalized or require intensive care, and are also at risk for long COVID.
"With the rapid circulation of the Omicron variant, vaccine roll-out may be initiated in areas with reported heightened local transmission prioritizing eligible 5–11-year-old children who belong in the A3 (children with co-morbidities) and A1 (children of healthcare front-liners) category," the statement read.
"For the implementing agencies of the vaccination program, due diligence must be applied to ensure vaccine equity and access."
The doctors added that it should be made clear to the public who can serve as guardians for children getting vaccinated when their parents are not available.
The DOH and the pediatricians' group also reminded pregnant women to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the DOH is expecting a rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for over 11 million children 4 years old and below to begin by April.
But the head of the Philippines' vaccine expert panel said it is waiting for more data on vaccines for 2 to 5 year olds.