By Analou De Vera
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) expressed concern that at least two million Filipino children below two years old may miss out on vaccinations for this year because of the coronavirus disease pandemic.
(ALI VICOY / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
The Unicef said that childhood immunization in the Philippines has been "declining sharply in recent years from 87 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2019, exposing children to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio."
“A majority of communities in the country are under enhanced community quarantine, with routine immunization services disrupted or suspended, possibly affecting at least two million children below two years old who are most vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases,” it said in a statement.
To note, the Philippines faced measles and polio outbreak last year.
“The recent measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2019 saw a staggering 130 percent increase in cases compared to the same period in 2018,” the agency said.
“Polio re-emerged in the country in 2019 with 17 confirmed cases and health experts fear an increase as the polio outbreak response had to be suspended due to COVID-19,” it added.
Health interventions like immunization should not be neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Unicef.
“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 agency said.
“Catch-up immunization and intensified immunization activities are deeply needed once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who missed vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children,” it added.
The UNICEF encouraged local government units to continue immunization activities “if feasible,” adding that the Department of Health (DOH) has already issued Interim Guidelines for the Immunization Services in the Context of the COVID-19 Outbreak on March 25 to help local authorities in decision-making.
“Vaccines protect children against harmful disease and death, saving up to three million lives every year, or more than five lives saved every minute of every day. Vaccines are scientifically proven to be safe and effective to prevent diseases,” said UNICEF Philippines Chief of Health and Nutrition Programme Dr. Wigdan Madani.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) also urged countries to sustain the conduct of their immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past three decades, vaccines have made the Western Pacific region healthier and safer from diseases like polio, measles, rubella, and hepatitis B. But if vaccine rates go down, infectious disease comes,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, in a press briefing last April 21.
“If we allow COVID-19 to disrupt immunization programs, our region will face a new crisis at a time when health systems are already strained,” he added.