Lockdowns, dengue-vaccine scare stifle Philippines' battle vs polio reemergence

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 25 2020 07:45 PM

MANILA--The Department of Health (DOH) is pushing hard to vaccinate tens of thousands of children against polio despite the coronavirus pandemic, which slowed down the government's immunization program during the early months of the community lockdowns.

As of June this year, the DOH has recorded 25 polio infections and 16 cases, which referred to children who already experienced disability brought about by the virus, said Dr. Maria Wilda Silva, national immunization program manager.

Among the priorities for vaccination are the National Capital Region and the neighboring Calabarzon region, both of which are also dealing with the rising number of COVID-19 infections. Calabarzon comprises the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon. 

Immunization in the provinces of Cavite and Rizal was at 46 percent as of Aug. 23, a week before the target for Phase 2 completion, according to data presented in an online forum.

In Laguna, health authorities were closely monitoring viral shedding from a child infected with polio because this has the potential of infecting the community without sufficient immunization, said Silva.

"We need to do something about these regions. We have to up their protection against polio because polio respects no boundaries," she said during the forum.

Polio, a vaccine-preventable disease that can cause paralysis, reemerged in the Philippines last year, having been eradicated 19 years earlier.

Health officials then said the controversy over the dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, had discouraged many parents from having their children immunized.

Silva said "vaccine hesitancy" remained noticeable as the DOH resumed polio immunization.

"Akala namin natapos na kami dun (We thought we were past that...) and we were able to move forward already because we conducted a measles campaign in the past and we had a good coverage," she said.

"But then, looking at our coverage for polio... the Dengvaxia controversy still has an impact on their acceptance of vaccination."

Silva said the lockdowns intended to prevent COVID-19 infections "added to the complication."

Health workers in charge of vaccination during the pandemic observe strict protocols such as wearing face masks and face shields, said Dr. Beverly Ho, director for Health Promotion and Communication Services.

Immunization, she said, was done only in areas that were well-ventilated and disinfected.

"At the end of the day, hindi po tayo lahat pwede magtago because these are diseases that could have lifelong implications and hindi lang naman COVID ang problema natin," she said.

(At the end of the day, we cannot keep hiding because these are diseases that could have lifelong implications and COVID-19 is not our only problem.)