Parents nationwide are encouraged to bring their newborn babies and children age one to five years old, regardless of vaccination history, to local health centers to avail of the free vaccination against measles, rubella and polio for the whole month of September.
The Department of Health (DOH), through its Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), aims to “ensure that infants/children and mothers have access to routinely recommended infanthood/child vaccines.” To realize this, the program seeks to “reduce the morbidity and mortality among children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Specifically, EPI aims to achieve the following:
1. To immunize all infants/children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.
2. To sustain the polio-free status of the Philippines.
3. To eliminate measles infection (find out what is measles and how one can avoid it here.
4. To eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus
5. To control diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis b and German measles.
6. To prevent extra pulmonary tuberculosis among children.
Compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases, measles and rubella continue to be a threat to Filipino children. The DOH-National Epidemiology Center reported that a total of 44,666 suspect measles cases have been reported nationwide from Jan. 1 to July 5 this year. Of these, 16,214 (36 percent) were confirmed. Unfortunately, 91 percent of those with confirmed measles have already died.
Last January, DOH declared an ‘outbreak’ of measles in Metro Manila since the number of cases shot up when compared to similar cases in 2012, triggering emergency vaccination drives in outbreak areas. Health officials even expressed frustration over the low vaccination coverage in some areas during the imposition of the outbreak.
EPI, which happens every three years, ensures that all children would be vaccinated by mobilizing health workers in all local health centers in the country to administer the free vaccination, be it routine or supplemental. The country must achieve at least 95 percent of all their babies and children being immunized to be considered a success.
To strengthen the program, Republic Act 10152, or a law which authorizes mandatory immunization activities for all Filipino babies and children, was enacted.
This year, about 11,000 nurses had been added to help present health workers in conducting the month-long immunization program, which would target about 13 million Filipino babies and children, according to report. EPI is also called locally as “Iligtas sa Tigdas ang ‘Pinas” (Save the Philippines from Measles).
“These nurses—who are trained vaccinators—are now deployed all over the country to help inform parents and guardians that no child and infant should die of a vaccine-preventable disease,” said DOH Undersecretary Janette Garin in a press conference last week. “Together with our partners in the barangays (communities), we will try to compel all parents and guardians to proceed to the nearest health center to avail the free vaccination.”
The campaign, which will run for the whole month of September, aims to protect about 13 million Filipino newborns to below 5 years old against measles and rubella (German measles), and 11 million against polio.
DOH Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag said in a gathering last year that the budget for EPI would be worth P3.4 billion.
Meanwhile, an said debunking myths about measles and improving vaccine coverage are key objectives of DOH for this year’s month-long vaccination, according to a DOH official.
Dulce Elfa, national nurse coordinator for the Expanded Immunization Program, said that part of the improved coverage will involve the assessment of puroks (villages) once vaccinations are finished at local health centers.
More than 20 households in high-risk areas, including slums, areas with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, and disaster-hit areas, will determine the need for house-to-house campaigns, the story added.
“In that RCA [rapid coverage assessment], dun po makikita kung may missed child… lahat po ng batang nabakunahan lalagyan ng indelible ink. Once they find a missed child, that’s the time health workers will conduct the mop-up,” explained Elfa in the story, noting that parents still need to bring their children to health centers for the drive.
On the other hand, Floro Orato, DOH-Region 2 health education and promotion officer, said needle vaccinations may scare off misinformed citizens due to prior experiences.
“Because of the advancement of technology, hindi na dapat gawing panakot sa bata yung injection. ‘Yun ang kinakatanda ng mga nanay, mga magulang, kaya takot silang matusukan ang kanilang anak,” he said.
Education is also critical in informing anti-vaccine groups, as well as indigenous people, who are part of the DOH’s high-risk groups, the same report added.