Immunization should continue amid pandemic—DOH, experts

Citing that the country could not afford an outbreak within a pandemic, the Department of Health (DOH) and medical experts reinforced that immunization from vaccine-preventable diseases should continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This position is strongly aligned with the statements released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF which also highlighted the importance of continuing vaccination at this challenging time. Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination said that the benefits of immunization clearly outweigh the risks at this time.

“Don’t be afraid because children must get immunized. They are at higher risk of getting measles, polio, pneumonia and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” Bravo said.

“Let us all be reminded that first, if children and other vulnerable sectors are not vaccinated, they can get sick and can die from these vaccine-preventable diseases,” she adds.

These were among the salient points discussed in the first-ever virtual Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel last May 15, 2020, via the Zoom platform with distinguished panelists: Dr. Wilda Silva, National Immunization Program Director of the DOH, Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society of the Philippines President, and Dr. Lulu Bravo, Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Executive Director.

Samahang Plaridel, an association of seasoned media veterans and communicators and proponent of the longest-running news kapihan – the Kapitan sa Manila Hotel recently held its first-ever virtual kapihan last May 15, 2020 via the Zoom platform.

The e-Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel tackled on the importance of immunization and how it can prevent an outbreak within a pandemic. This is in line with the celebration of World Immunization in the last week of April, and with the pandemic, the issue of immunization has become more relevant. UNICEF has earlier called on the promotion and continuation of routine immunization efforts, especially for children despite the pandemic and key health officials of the Department of Health that has echoed the call of UNICEF.

Dr. Wilda Silva, National Immunization Program Director of the DOH said that the government recognizes immunization as a core health service that should be prioritized even at this time of the COVID pandemic.

“But we also accept the fact that we need to protect our healthcare workers and our community as well. We must strike that balance between giving that life-saving vaccine, protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases, and protecting our health workers against COVID. The position of the DOH when the COVID crisis was at its height, was to offer immunization services when feasible,” Silva said.

One of the vaccine-preventable diseases, pneumonia, remains the number one killer disease among children 5 years old and below. The tender for the child pneumococcal vaccine—between PCV 10 and PCV 13– is currently being reviewed by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) for comparability and cost effectiveness.

UNICEF Philippines/2017/AC Dimatatac

Asked on the new evidence presented by the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that the two PCVs in the market are equally effective in protecting the children from pneumonia, Silva said, “When we did the cost effectiveness analysis, they are both cost effective. The price of PCV10 and PCV13, they fall on that range na cost effective sila pareho. But, of course, there is another benefit when we chose the PCV13 because it contains the three serotypes that are not found in PCV10 before. But now with the new evidence, this was now presented to National Immunization Committee and then it was brought up to the HTAC for further review and we are waiting for the review.”

The PCV tender is massive, which is even bigger than that of the controversial Dengvaxia procurement.

“Currently, there is only one available pneumococcal conjugate vaccine available in the market (PCV 13). It is a very expensive vaccine, and it’s eating up more than 60% of the budget of the national immunization program. Mahal talaga pag isang produkto lang ang nasa merkado,” Silva said.

The HTAC Review of the PCV vaccines is expected to be completed this June.

For her part, Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP), said that like COVID-19, “each opponent virus has its own effective weapon of infecting vulnerable individuals, especially children which is why, vaccination is critical even during a pandemic.

UNICEF Philippines/2020

Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi said that for now, we already have an effective defense weapon against measles, polio, pertussis, flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, and many other illnesses. We need to fight and beat these to ensure the health of our kids. We should all together make parents aware of how important it is to get vaccinated.

For immunization concerns, ask any health workers from your Barangay Health Center or your pediatrician regarding vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, pertussis, flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, hepatitis B.

Without the vaccine to protect us, the outbreak can spread fast. That’s why the message is clear to all the parents, make sure children receive their routine immunizations while following national and local preventive measures including physical distancing, handwashing, and proper coughing/sneezing hygiene.


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