Medicine Cabinet


Smallpox, an ancient scourge, is caused by a highly contagious airborne virus. In the 20th century alone, smallpox caused an estimated 300-500 million deaths worldwide. A 10-year vaccination campaign by the World Health Organization (WHO) led to the total eradication of smallpox in 1977, an accomplishment that has been hailed as one of greatest triumphs known to history.

Building on the momentum of the smallpox eradication effort, the WHO launched the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in 1974 to provide universal access to life-saving vaccines for children worldwide.

This year’s World Immunization Week, which is celebrated annually in the last week of April, shone a spotlight on the 50th anniversary of the EPI. Today, every country has a national immunization program (NIP), and vaccines are universally recognized as among the safest, most cost-effective, and successful public health interventions to prevent fatalities and enhance quality of life.

The Department of Health (DoH) established the country’s EPI in 1976, initially providing six vaccines namely those against tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles. Today, the DoH National Immunization Program offers a total of 13 vaccines against TB, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Hemophilus influenza type B (HiB), hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, rotavirus, pneumococcal disease, human papilloma virus (HPV), influenza (flu), Japanese encephalitis, and COVID-19.

In celebration of World Immunization Week with the theme “Humanly Possible,” representatives from the government, private sector and civil society gathered for the “Health Connect” forum and shared their insights on the gains, challenges, and opportunities in improving the country’s immunization coverage.

Launched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Health Connect aims to serve as a platform for medical experts and journalists to provide the general public with accurate, up-to-date health information. The media forum is led by the DoH with the support of the Philippine Medical Association, the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines and its member Sanofi.

The DoH-NIP target coverage for routine immunization among children is 95%. Unfortunately, from a peak of 75.4% in 2014, the country’s fully immunized child (FIC) coverage fell to 59.9% in 2022, a result of many factors including, but not limited to, increased misinformation that fueled vaccine hesitancy. COVID-19 pandemic-related issues such as service and supply chain disruptions, resource diversion to response efforts, and containment measures that limited immunization service access and availability, were also contributing factors to the shortfall.

But there’s good news. The country’s FIC coverage increased slightly in 2023 to 62.3% while our measles-containing vaccine (MCV2) coverage increased from 63.7% in 2022 to 69% in 2023, according to National Immunization Manager Dr. Janis Bunoan Macazo.

Regions 1 and 3, Metro Manila, and the Caraga Administrative Region in northeastern Mindanao had the highest FIC coverage rates (71% to 80%). FIC coverage rates in Regions 2, 6, 10, 11, 12 and the Cordillera Administrative Region range from 61% to 70%, while those in Regions 4A, 5, 7, 8, and 9 range from 51% to 60%.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao recorded the lowest FIC coverage rate of less than 50%. Dr. Macazo noted that these FIC coverage rates cover the public sector only, but cited surveys showing that the routine childhood immunization rate in private facilities is around 78%.

On the other hand, insufficient knowledge and understanding of vaccines are the root causes of vaccine hesitancy. As such, educating parents is key to improving routine childhood immunization coverage, said Rachel Alcalde-Dumlao, reach52 community operations and insight manager.

Dr. Fatima Gimenez, Philippine Pediatrics Society Immunization Committee Chairperson, called for multi-stakeholder collaboration to enhance awareness on the benefits of immunization and effect positive behavior change among the general public.

Dr. Faith Villanueva, Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID) Adult Immunization Committee Co-Chair, urged healthcare professionals to promote vaccine confidence and maximize efforts to vaccinate the adult population.

Meanwhile, the important vaccines for senior citizens are those against influenza (flu), pneumococcal pneumonia, tetanus-diphtheria, hepatitis B, HPV, and herpes zoster, according to Dr. Shelly Ann dela Vega, Director of the Institute on Aging at the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health.

She stressed that older people need to stay up-to-date with recommended vaccines, noting that 2021 to 2030 is the United Nations Decade of Healthy Aging. People who care for the elderly should likewise get their recommended vaccines, she added.

Mayor Dahlia Loyola of Carmona City, Cavite called on her fellow local chief executives to work with the National Government and other key stakeholders in strengthening their community-based immunization programs.

Under her leadership, Carmona City achieved 85% FIC coverage rate in 2023; recorded zero cases of measles, polio, diphtheria, and neonatal and maternal tetanus for the past several years; and achieved an impressive 97.8% influenza immunization rate for senior citizens. In 2022 and 2023, the City Government of Carmona was among the DoH Golden Jab Awardees for achieving the highest vaccination coverage for measles and rubella supplemental immunization among LGUs nationwide.

In this age when vaccines are available, we believe that no Filipino should die from vaccine-preventable diseases.


Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of 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.