By Dr. Susana P. Padilla-Campos
THE Department of Health joined the rest of the global community in observing World Immunization Week, celebrated in the last week of April. This is timely as the 2019 Childhood Immunization Schedule for the Philippines was released late last February, details of which recommended vaccines for children and adolescents. Prepared by the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP), together with the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), the celebration commemorates the 13 vaccinations that Filipino children need from ages zero to 18 years.
The Childhood Immunization Schedule for 2019 includes the anti-tuberculosis Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and the Hepatitis B vaccine (HBV) which should be given to babies when born. The good news is, both vaccines are available for free at health centers nationwide. The Immunization Schedule also covers vaccines that can protect children from diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hemophilus influenza type B, polio, rotavirus infection, pneumococcal infections, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, japaneses B encephalitis, hepatitis A, human papilloma virus (HPV), and other optional vaccinations.
Immunization is a proven way to prevent and eliminate life-threatening infectious diseases. When we are vaccinated, we challenge our immune system to generate antibodies against the antigens that we introduce, so that when we are exposed to these infectious agents, we are ready to mount a protective response and do not come down with the illness. Depending on the vaccine, more than one dose may be needed to build high immunity, enough to prevent disease and boost immunity that fades over time.
This proven safeguard in our children’s health and the health of all Filipinos has been under attack. Because of a growing fear and misunderstanding of what vaccines can do, including the unfounded link between vaccination and autism, the measles vaccination rate has gone down, and we are now having to face the consequences of the recent unprecedented measles outbreak. The PPS cited that measles cases increased by 57% to more than 5,000 confirmed cases and that the number continues to rise, overwhelming doctors and hospitals in urban and rural areas of the country. Instead of being on track to eliminate measles by 2010, the Philippines has slipped away from that goal.
Although measles vaccines are usually given to infants at nine months of age, it was recommended that the first measles vaccine should be administered as early as six months of age for added protection during cases of nationwide outbreaks.
The recent measles outbreak is a glaring reminder that vaccines are effective and protective. This is a scientifically proven means of fighting deadly infectious diseases. Withholding vaccines can result in decreased herd immunity and resurgence of nearly eradicated dreadful infections. Parents of infants, children, and adolescents should visit their healthcare provider or nearest health centers to find out how to follow the Childhood Immunization Schedule.
Dr. Susana P. Padilla-Campos is a pediatric endocrinologist and currently the medical director of ManilaMed (Medical Center Manila).