In an online press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said that vaccinations need to continue because the country cannot afford to have an outbreak within an outbreak.
Vergeire stressed, “Ang pagpapabakuna ay para sa lahat or vaccines work for all. Ayon sa World Health Organization (WHO), ang pagpapabakuna ay nakakapagligtas ng milyong buhay taon-taon at kinikilala na isa sa pinaka-successful at cost-effective health intervention sa lahat.” (Vaccination is for all and works for all. According to the WHO, vaccination saves millions of lives yearly. It is known as the most successful and cost-effective health intervention.)
She added that immunization is critical so as not to further worsen the current health crisis the country is facing.
Meanwhile, Undersecretary for Public Health Services Dr. Myrna Cabotaje emphasized the importance of vaccination for children. She said “Kahit na nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya, mahalaga pa rin bigyan natin ng angkop at mga karagdagan o mga tinatawag nating catch up na pagbabakuna para sa mga bata para hindi sila magkasakit, hindi sila makahawa at hindi lumaganap ang mga sakit na ito.” (Even if we are in the midst of a pandemic, it is important to avail of the catch-up vaccines for children to make sure they don’t fall ill and spread infection.)
According to Cabotaje, the priority vaccines that are still critical despite the pandemic include BCG, hepatitis B, polio, dipterya, pertussis, tetanus, and measles, and pneumonia, among many others.
In the Philippines, pneumonia remains to be the number one killer disease among children five years old and below.
There are two pneumonia vaccines in the market, PCV10 and PCV13. In February 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reaffirmed this earlier position saying that the two available PCVs are equally effective in preventing overall pneumococcal diseases in children. The position paper also states that there is at present insufficient evidence of a difference in the net impact of the two available PCVs on overall disease burden.
According to the DOH, the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) is currently reviewing the National Immunization Program (NIP), particularly the Pneumococcal Vaccination Program for children, in light of the new evidence from the WHO. HTAC’s assessment will proceed by the first week of June.
In safely implementing the immunization program during the enhanced community quarantine and while Regional Health Units are dedicated to the COVID-19 response, Cabotaje announced that health workers may be scheduled for a house-to-house vaccination.
Otherwise, immunization may be administered in private clinics, although strict physical distancing must be observed alongside orderly appointments. This is to prevent overcrowding, a huge factor in the spread of the virus.
This movement by the DOH supports the strong pronouncement of the WHO and UNICEF that “all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control.”
Furthermore, UNICEF stated in a press release that it is “particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan. Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering.
“At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19.”
UNICEF further stressed that it is imperative for immunization programs to “remain robust” and must reach those who need it most. This is key in successfully rolling out vaccines against COVID-19 when they become available.