Breaking misconceptions against vaccines

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    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination can prevent up to 2 to 3 million deaths a year and another 1.5 million more can be avoided if coverage is improved.

    When a population has 95% immunization coverage, this could eventually eradicate diseases such as measles much like the eradication of smallpox globally.

    With the help of vaccines available for free in local health centers, the Philippines gained the status as the 44th country to have eliminated tetanus. In the year 2000, the Philippines was also declared polio-free. However, due to the accumulation of non-vaccinated children and the drop in vaccination coverage, the Philippines and other parts of the world are seeing a recurrence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.

    “The events of these last two years have really stimulated us to come out and speak up, because the international scene is now looking at the Philippines as the number one vaccine hesitant country in the world,” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), during the 20th Philippine National Immunization Conference (PNIC) held in Batangas.

    The Department of Health lists fear due to recent controversial events as one of the reasons why parents and caregivers are not getting their family members immunized.

    Vaccines, however, undergo many clinical tests in order to be guaranteed safe and effective.

    Another cause of hesitancy is the perceived high costs of vaccines. Immunization is available for free at local health centers and through vaccination caravans initiated by the Department of Health’s Expanded Program on Immunization. Vaccines which are available for free include polio vaccines, tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and most recently, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine administered to young women. It is also mandated by the Senior Citizen’s Act that indigent seniors must be given free pneumococcal vaccine.

    Another misconception is the belief that vaccines are only for children. Immunization starts at childhood, but some cases may require a booster dose in adulthood. For senior citizens whose immune systems get comprised with age and health conditions, vaccines are of utmost importance. According to Dr. Shelley Dela Vega, President of the PFV, “Seniors have weaker defense mechanisms against infections, which is why vaccination is the most effective way to fight diseases for them.”

    The PFV in partnership with the Mary Mediatrix Medical Center, Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Pediatric Society – Southern Tagalog Chapter, Lipa City Medical Society, and the public and private health sectors, held the 20th PNIC to address the difficulties resulting from vaccine hesitancy and the steps to strengthen confidence in immunization across the country.

    Dr. Dela Vega emphasized the ongoing mission to address vaccine hesitancy as she stated, “We at the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination have for the past 20 years been communicating that vaccines are needed for children, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to reduce human morbidity and mortality through excellent communication, post-graduate vaccinology courses, and national immunization conferences. We also have moved on to not just training but also research on vaccines.”