The perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined by 25% in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UNICEF report.
At least 67 million children worldwide missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries.
Of the 67 million children globally who missed out on routine vaccination between 2019 and 2022, UNICEF reported at least 48 million did not receive a single routine vaccine — a situation known as “zero-dose.”
“The Philippines has one million zero dose children, the second highest in East Asia and the Pacific Region, and the fifth highest globally,” the United Nations children's agency said.
“The perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined by about 25% in the Philippines and by more than a third in the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Japan after the start of the pandemic,” it said.
Meanwhile, UNICEF also said that in most countries, people under 35 and women were more likely to report less confidence in vaccines for children after the start of the pandemic.
“Vaccine confidence is volatile and time specific. Additional data collection and further analysis will be required to determine if the findings are indicative of a longer-term trend. Despite the falls, overall support for vaccines remains relatively strong. In almost half the 55 countries studied more than 80% of respondents perceived vaccines as important for children,” it added.
UNICEF said several factors contributed to this, such as “uncertainty about the response to the pandemic, growing access to misleading information, declining trust in expertise, and political polarization.”
In the Philippines, vaccine hesitancy could be attributed to “cultural factors, and concerns on vaccine safety.”
UNICEF called on the governments to increase financing for immunization, work with stakeholders to unlock available resources, and accelerate catch-up vaccination efforts to protect children and prevent disease outbreaks.
“The report is urging governments to: urgently identify and reach all children, especially those who missed vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Strengthen demand for vaccines, including by building confidence, prioritize funding to immunization services and primary health care,” said the UN agency.
“Build resilient health systems through investment in female health workers, innovation, and local manufacturing.”
Department of Health (DOH) Officer-In-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said that they were coordinating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF experts regarding the reports, adding that the findings were “concerning.”
“We concur with this findings dahil noong kami ay nagkaroon ng pag-uusap it is a meeting among WHO experts. Kami po ay tinutulungan ng WHO at saka UNICEF at naipaliwanag nila sa amin itong mga reports na ito galing po doon sa iba’t ibang talaan na meron po tayo,” Vergeire said in a media forum.
(We concur with these findings because when we met with the experts, we were assisted by the WHO and the UNICEF. They explained the reports, which came from our records.)
“Ito po is really concerning, unang una yung sa polio, dahil siyempre yung surveillance natin for polio, dahil nagka-outbreak tayo nung 2018, isinara natin itong outbreak na ito. And then we do not want na mabuksan ulit. At saka dapat magtuloy-tuloy tayo para maa-attain natin ulit yung polio-free country status natin,” she said.
(This is really concerning, first of all polio, because, of course, our surveillance for polio, because we had an outbreak in 2018, we closed this outbreak. And we do not want it reopened, and we must continue to attain our polio-free country status.)
Vergeire said the DOH was surveilling and testing waste water in high-risk areas to further monitor the children who were at risk from polio.
Meanwhile, the DOH OIC said they also wanted to expand immunization against measles, adding that there were at least 225 cases of measles recorded as of March this year.
“Mayroon tayong nakikitang ibang area na may clustering of infection, bagamat, hindi natin masasabing outbreak na ito sa ngayon but it might be and continue to become an outbreak kung hindi natin ito mapipigilan,” she said.
(We are seeing another area with infection clustering. While we cannot say it is an outbreak, it might become one if we cannot stop it.)
Vergeire urged parents to get children vaccinated against these diseases to prevent outbreaks and an increase infections.
“Yung mga batang hindi pa kumpleto ang bakuna ay makumpleto na natin para maiwasan natin sana ang mga outbreaks na atin pong pwedeng mapigilan naman katulad ng polio at tigdas na outbreak sa ating bansa,” she said.
(Those children who are not yet fully vaccinated, we will complete their vaccinations to prevent polio and measles outbreaks in our country.)
At risk of polio outbreak
Meanwhile, UNICEF Philippines said at least 78% of provinces and cities in the country are at risk of polio outbreak.
“When the pool of susceptible children or children that are not vaccinated for measles containing vaccine reaches the annual birth cohort that is around 2 million children then the country is really ripe for an outbreak,” Dr. Carla Orozco, UNICEF Philippines immunization specialist, said in Lei Alviz’s “24 Oras” report on Tuesday.
“It's actually the same for polio, in terms of high risk areas, we have 67 out of 81 provinces and 71 out of 96 cities,” she said.
The DOH said it will conduct supplemental immunization activities for children on May 2 to 31.
The department said it targets to vaccinate at least 9.5 million children from nine to 59 months old against measles, while 11 million children from zero to 59 months old will also be vaccinated against polio. — DVM/KG, GMA Integrated News