Medicine Cabinet

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) recently announced the end of the polio outbreak in the Philippines. Both the World Health Organization and UNICEF confirmed the virus has not been detected in a child or in the environment in the past 16 months. Polio is a highly infectious disease that mostly affects children under the age of five. If polio is eradicated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will only be the second disease ever to be completely eradicated after smallpox.

While this is good news, we should not let our guard down. The number of fully immunized Filipino children decreased to 62% in 2020 from 69% in 2019, according to Dr. Kim Patrick Tejano, program manager of the Department of Health’s National Immunization Program (NIP), who cited the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as the reason for this dip.

“Many parents did not go out to have their children vaccinated because they were afraid of getting COVID-19. Also, many health workers on the ground were re-deployed to care for COVID-19 patients and to serve as contact tracers and [COVID-19 test] swabbers,” said Dr. Tejano during the Health Connect webinar in time for the observance of World Immunization Week 2021 in April.

To address outbreaks, the DoH in partnership with local government units (LGUs) conducted the “Chikiting Ligtas” campaign, a nationwide measles, rubella and polio supplemental immunization activity. Phase 1 was conducted from October to Nov. 2020 in the Mindanao Regions, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley Region, Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) Region, and Bicol Region. Phase 2 began in Feb. 2021 in the Visayas Regions, National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon).

According to Dr. Tejano, the “Chikiting Ligtas” campaign achieved 90% immunization coverage for measles and rubella, covering about 8.5 million children age 9–59 months. For oral polio vaccine, 87% immunization coverage was achieved, corresponding to around 6 million children age 0–59 months.

“As the pandemic continues to challenge access to essential healthcare services, the need to provide people with life-saving vaccines becomes more critical. As our way forward, we want to focus on routine catch-up immunization, especially of children who missed their doses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons such as vaccine hesitancy and accessibility issues,” said Dr. Tejano.

The NIP will issue guidelines to help health workers in reaching the target population of the routine catch-up immunization. It will also implement outbreak response immunization to equip health workers with the knowledge and resources necessary for timely and adequate actions to outbreaks of polio, measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Dr. Tejano assured the general public that safety protocols are in place in immunization sites to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The DOH underscored the importance of engaging all stakeholders to advocate immunization, especially among children.

In June 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global health authorities warned that the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting life-saving immunization services around the world, putting millions of children in both poor and rich countries at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles, and polio.

In 2020, approximately 125 mass vaccination campaigns in lower-middle income countries against polio, measles, meningitis A, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, and tetanus were postponed, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other pandemic-related factors that disrupted immunization services in many countries include lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) to conduct immunization activities, healthcare workers’ fear of contracting COVID-19, and lack of vaccines due to closure of country borders, according to the CDC.

We appreciate all our health workers who work tirelessly in vaccinating adults and children which is crucial in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. We also commend local government units that ensure the effective implementation of the NIP in their areas of jurisdiction.

We reiterate that vaccination saves lives. Efforts must be sustained and strengthened so that all of us, including our children, would be protected from debilitating and potentially fatal vaccine-preventable diseases.


Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its Members are in the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.