Kids' immunization coverage fell to 48.5% in 2021: DOH

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 25 2022 06:26 PM

Children receive polio vaccine during a multi-regional mass immunization program in Quezon City on October 14, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file
Children receive polio vaccine during a multi-regional mass immunization program in Quezon City on October 14, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file


MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) and various health organizations urged the public on Monday to get vaccinated against various diseases during World Immunization Week.

Government officials and health experts made the appeal during Health Connect’s webinar on the DOH’s immunization goals for vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio and the flu.

This year, the week-long celebration has a theme “Magpabakuna na: Long life for all, kaya sa Pilipinas” or “Get vaccinated: Long life for all is achievable in the Philippines.”

“Immunization is one of the most important breakthroughs in the field of human health. It has prevented the catastrophic spread of contagious diseases,” said Dr. Joselyn Eusebio, president of the Philippine Pediatric Society. 

“In children, immunization is integrated in every wellness encounter with a pediatrician, from infancy to adolescence, immunization is discussed extensively.”

Eusebio stressed the importance of maintaining a high number of immunized children to prevent a possible outbreak of measles or polio.

“Because of low vaccination coverage rates, there is always that possibility of an outbreak,” Eusebio said.

Childhood immunization declined to 48.5 percent in 2021 from 70 percent in 2019, according to Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the DOH Health Promotions Bureau.

In 2019, childhood immunization coverage was at 70%. This declined sharply in 2021 to 48.5%.

According to Ho, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a disruption in routine immunization in the Philippines. 

She explained that many health workers who were supposed to be vaccinators for routine immunization were unavailable after being tapped to help in the country’s pandemic response.

“The supply side. Most of what COVID-19 vaccination is using is exactly the same human resources, clinics, people that are administering COVID-19 vaccines. They’re the people who used to go out and around houses to vaccinate kids,” she said. 

“The first year of the pandemic, nahirapan most of the HCWs. Natakot din ang parents to bring their kids to the centers. Nahirapan din dahil walang vehicles going to the centers. Last year could’ve been better but we had three rounds of surges.”

(The first year of the pandemic, most of the HCWs struggled. Parents were also scared to bring their kids to the centers. It was also difficult because there were no vehicles going to the centers.)

But with the country’s easing restrictions and progress against COVID-19, the DOH hopes the numbers will improve.

“Hopefully, this year, with minimum health standards and vaccinations, we should all find it easier to go back to our health centers," she said.

“We really need to raise our immunization rate to what it was before, which was between 85% to 90%. Right now, we are still less than 60% coverage,” Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Dr. Lulu Bravo said.

“It’s not only in the Philippines that we did have a reduction of non-COVID vaccinations. It is global and there is a national immunization strategy that has to be done all over the world to improve vaccination coverage,” she added.

To highlight the importance of routine immunization, the DOH will hold a vaccination campaign called “Chikiting Bakunation Days” on the last Thursdays and Fridays of April, May and June. The target age group for the program are those 0 to 23 months old.

If still with available vaccines, the department will also cater to children aged 5 and below.

“Regular na available ang ating mga bakuna sa mga health center, Monday to Friday. We’re encouraging mothers to bring in their kids every Wednesday as a force of habit,” Ho said. 

“But in the next three months, the last two days, mas magiging active ang LGUs sa paggawa ng outreach activities (local government units will be more active in conducting outreach activities).”

The experts also assured parents, routine immunization is safe for children with neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders.

“Every child needs to get vaccinated. It is one of their rights as children. That includes children with neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders, such as autism and ADHD. In fact, these are considered comorbidities, and therefore, they are being prioritized. These children have to be free from illnesses,” Eusebio explained.

Another expert emphasized that immunization is also important for the adult population.

“Immunization is not only for children. It’s also for adults and older adults. It’s not only about the health and medical impact. It’s also about the social and economic impact,” said Dr. Minette Rosario, chairperson of the Adult Immunization Committee of the Philippine Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

“Immunizations prevent death and they prolong life. People live longer and healthy lives when they have vaccinations and complete immunizations starting childhood,” she added. 

“The impact of receiving influenza and pneumococcal vaccines in adults and older adults can contribute in reducing antimicrobial resistance in the community. On the social and economic side, we have improvements in ability to work, less absences in the workplace and a lot of productivity gains.”

“Adults are not too old to be shot… 5% of our population are 60 and above. That is not many, yet they are the ones who must be encouraged so much to be immunized because they never started their immunization until the COVID situation,” Bravo added.

The DOH said it will continue to ramp up its messaging efforts to promote immunization of children and adults through media engagements, and dialogues with parents and other stakeholders to highlight the effectiveness of vaccines.

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