Children in Yolanda-hit areas to receive free vaccines

Children 6 months to 5 years old will receive vaccinations regardless if they've had shots in the past

PARTNERS. WHO (represented by Dr Julie Hall) and DOH (Secretary Enrique Ona) are jointly carrying out the mass vaccination program in Yolanda-hit areas. Photo from the DOH Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH) launched on Friday, November 22, a mass vaccination campaign to be carried out in areas affected by the Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

They will be giving polio and measles vaccinations to some one million children 6 months to 5 years old, the age group most at risk of catching infections.

The initial phase of the program will cover children in two hard-hit cities, Cebu and Tacloban. Target recipients will also receive Vitamin A shots for immune system boost.

The initiative is part of the health department’s disease prevention and control strategy, made more vital by the unhygienic conditions brought about by the typhoon. 

Should funds permit, the campaign will be extended to children up to 15 years old. 

Communicable, potentially fatal

Dr Julie Hall, WHO representative in the Philippines, said measles is a potentially fatal disease for children. The disease, a viral respiratory infection, often leads to high mortality rates as it spreads quickly in post-disaster situations.

“Large numbers of non- or under-vaccinated children are at risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases such as measles, particularly in congested areas where the homeless are now living,” she explained.

Measles and polio are already covered in the country’s expanded immunization program, to which pneumonia was added in 2013

While polio has been eliminated in the country, the entry of foreign nationals can bring it in.

Republic Act 10152 or the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Law mandates free immunization for children 5 years old and below in government hospitals and health centers nationwide.

Children covered by the campaign, however, will receive vaccinations regardless if they have had shots in the past.

This is because conditions in calamity situations – overcrowding in relief centers and the breakdown of sanitation facilities – make the potential outbreaks of communicable diseases more likely.

Post-disaster situation

Logistical requirements for the mass vaccination campaign, including the procurement of the vaccines and medical supplies, will be jointly addressed by the WHO and the DOH. 

To prevent spoilage of vaccines, WHO is ensuring they are stored in gas-powered or generator-powered fridges, freezers, vaccine-cases, cold boxes, and ice packs from its partner-agencies. This is for affected areas where power is yet to be restored. 

One of the partner-agencies, USAID, already sent 6 solar-driven refrigerators to Tacloban.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said that while certain aspects of the health care system are disrupted due to damage incurred in the typhoon, it is still very much intact – “severely shaken but not broken,” he said.

A system of disease surveillance and continued monitoring is in place, he added.

As of Friday, more than 70 Filipino teams and 50 foreign teams are helping out in the medical missions.

Typhoon Yolanda lashed out its fury on November 8, washing away homes, causing deaths in the thousands, and putting millions of affected populations at risk. –

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