MANILA - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Thursday that 2 million Filipino children may miss out on vaccinations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted authorities to implement lockdowns in various parts of the Philippines.
In a statement, the UNICEF said that childhood immunization coverage in the country has been "declining sharply in recent years from 87 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2019", exposing children to diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations, such as measles and polio.
The UN agency noted the measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2019 was a "staggering" 130 percent increase in cases compared to the same period in 2018.
It also cited the re-emergence of polio in the country in the same year. The suspension of vaccination for the disease due to the current pandemic is fueling fears among experts polio cases could rise.
"Predicting vaccines stock out, reaching remote areas and disadvantaged children as well as increasing budget and staff of local governments are needed to prevent a further decline in immunization rates," the UNICEF said.
The agency called on local government units of places without COVID-19 cases to continue their immunization activities "if feasible."
It said that it "recognizes" the important role of Philippine health workers during the pandemic, especially those personally treating COVID-19 patients.
"We must do all we can to support, empower and invest in their safety, training and well-being, as they encourage parents to vaccinate against preventable diseases that remain a very real threat to children,” said UNICEF Philippines Country Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.
But the agency said "immunizations cannot be neglected in our efforts to contain COVID-19."
"Catch-up immunization and intensified immunization activities are deeply needed once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control," the UNICEF said.