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Immunization a must even during pandemic —experts

The immunization of children against vaccine-preventable diseases should be balanced with the country’s efforts to protect the population from the coronavirus disease, health experts stressed.

Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, underscored that children are at a higher risk of getting measles, polio, pneumonia, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

“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 said in a statement.

Dr. Mary Ann Bunyi, president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, likewise said that “each opponent virus has its own effective weapon of infecting vulnerable individuals, especially children, which is why vaccination is critical even during a pandemic.”

The National Immunization Program director of the Department of Health (DOH) also said the government recognizes immunization as a core health service that must be made available even amid a pandemic.

“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,” Dr. Wilda Silva said.

Silva earlier reported that immunization in the country dropped to an all-time low due to the lockdowns imposed to curb coronavirus transmission.

The DOH earlier reminded hospitals that they are mandated to continue providing essential services such as immunization despite the coronavirus pandemic. 

Earlier this month, the DOH and UN children's agency UNICEF again stressed the importance of continuing children's immunization even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Vaccine-preventable diseases

In September last year, polio reemerged in the Philippines after nearly two decades. 

The DOH launched a massive vaccination campaign in response.

Also in 2019, the World Health Organization ranked the Philippines as the country with the third-highest incidence of measles over a 12-month period worldwide. 

Pneumonia also remains the number one killer disease among children 5 years old and below.

The Health Technology Assessment Council is expected to complete its review of two anti-pneumonia vaccines - PCV10 and PCV13 - in June.

“Currently, there is only one available pneumococcal conjugate vaccine available in the market. It is a very expensive vaccine and it’s eating up more than 60 percent of the budget of the national immunization program,” Silva said. 

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

Asked on the new evidence presented by the World Health Organization 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.” 

At present, the Philippines uses PCV13 which covers 13 pneumococcal serotypes, or microorganisms that carry disease risks.

PCV 13 replaced PCV 10 in 2014 which covered three fewer serotypes that up to now are prevalent in the country and therefore still pose a risk to children. — BM/MDM, GMA News