The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and “vaccine hesitancy” have slowed down the government’s immunization initiative against polio, an official of the Department of Health (DOH) said.
“Aminin man natin o hindi [Whether we admit it or not], the pandemic— and the declaration of the lockdown because of the pandemic really affected the immunization coverage,” said DOH National Immunization Program Manager Dr. Maria Wilda Silva during an online forum hosted by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP).
“[For] 2020, the first quarter was comparable to our achievement in 2019 –first quarter. (But) when we look at (the) monthly coverage starting in March, I should say, nakita na natin [we really saw] the effect of the lockdown,” she added.
The National Capital Region and Calabarzon are among the priority areas for polio vaccination, said Silva.
“Unfortunately, we are really lagging behind in terms of coverage, [especially in those] two regions but we are helping them out so that they can do catch up [immunization] because we cannot afford to leave one community behind while the others are protected,” said the health official.
Meanwhile, there remains a negative effect of the controversial anti-Dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in the government’s immunization program, said Silva.
“What is also noticeable in this campaign particularly, is vaccine hesitancy because of the Dengvaxia controversy. Akala namin natapos na kami doon [We thought it was already over] and we were able to move forward already because we conducted a measles campaign in the past and we had good coverage,” she said.
“But then, looking at our coverage for polio and looking at the issues and concerns brought about to our attention …indeed, the Dengvaxia controversy still has an impact on their acceptance of vaccination,” she added.
Silva said that the DOH continues to educate the public on the importance of vaccination.
“I know they have been very active on social media and all platforms, informing the community on the importance of vaccination and what would happen if the child is left unprotected,” she said.
“We are doing our best to come up with policies and guidelines both for immunization and infection prevention and control, so as, to assist our implementers in the provision of an immunization service non-stop— despite COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
The DOH said that there are 25 listed cases of polio infections in the Philippines as of August 25. Sixteen of the infected children have already experienced a disability due to the said illness.
To note, polio is a vaccine-preventable disease that may cause paralysis. Last September 2019, the DOH confirmed the re-emergence of polio in the country, 19 years after the Philippines was declared polio-free by the World Health Organization.