DOH: Continue polio vaccination even amid COVID-19 pandemic
The Department of Health (DOH) urged the public and local governments on Tuesday (Aug. 25) to ensure that children still get vaccinated against polio to prevent an outbreak of the debilitating disease even at a time when the country is still grappling with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
As of June 30, the DOH’s national immunization program has achieved an average polio immunization coverage rate of only 25 percent across the country. By region, Metro Manila and Calabarzon had the lowest numbers.
Metro Manila recorded a coverage rate of around 15 percent, while Calabarzon reported a mere 10 percent.
This year, said program manager Maria Wilda Silva, “is very challenging both for campaign vaccination and for routine immunization.”
“Although they are doing their best, some of the regions are lagging behind,” Silva said.
“Our concern really is Calabarzon. There is an ongoing outbreak. There is a [virus] shedder in their midst,” she said.
She said Metro Manila is “high risk.”
“We need to do something about these regions. We have to up their protection against polio because polio respects no boundaries,” she added.
Of the top six regions which are currently seeing a high number of COVID-19 cases, Silva noted that all but one have seen vaccination coverage rates falling.
Aside from Metro Manila and Calabarzon, Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas have recorded polio coverage rates of 15 to 25 percent.
Only Central Luzon, which has the third most active polio cases, recorded a relatively high coverage rate of at least 35 percent.
“Central Luzon is an outlier because of a very strong local government support,” Silva said.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the immunization service in the region did not stop. They have a tailored-fit strategy in the region, in the province, in the municipality to provide continuous immunization services despite the lockdown,” Silva added.
The health official said even with the intensified polio vaccination campaigns last year, there are still cases where parents are hesitant to have their child vaccinated due in part to the Dengvaxia controversy.
“We thought we were able to move forward already because we conducted a measles campaign in the past and we have good coverage,” said Silva.
“But then looking at our coverage for polio and looking at the issues and concerns, the Dengvaxia controversy still has an impact on their acceptance of vaccination,” she said, referring to the dengue vaccine that became controversial when it was learned that those who have had no dengue history could suffer a more severe form of dengue when vaccinated using Dengvaxia.
To ensure that children are fully immunized, the DOH will launch from Oct. 1 to 30 a nationwide supplemental immunization campaign for measles, rubella and polio.
The measles and polio vaccine drives will be done in Luzon and the Visayas, while only a measles campaign will be done in Mindanao since it has already completed early this month its third supplemental polio drive.
“Vaccination is a job for everyone. We can’ t do it alone,” Silva said.
“Everybody has to pitch in. Responding to COVID-19, polio, is a huge job for just one sector. We are urging mothers, caregivers to [help ensure] children are vaccinated,” Silva added.
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