DOH to mount mass immunization campaign as PH risks measles outbreak in 2021

Though the coronavirus pandemic continues to linger, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on Wednesday, October 7, that it will conduct a nationwide immunization campaign to control the polio outbreak and stop a "predicted" measles outbreak in 2021.

At the DOH regular press briefing, National Immunization Program Manager Dr Wilda Silva said it was critical that the supplemental immunization campaign start this year as the polio outbreak earlier declared in September 2019 was still not under control.

Meanwhile, an estimated 2.4 children under the age of 5 are also susceptible to measles, one of the world’s most contagious diseases. 

“We need to move forward. We need to control the outbreak for polio, and we also need to stop the measles outbreak that is predicted to happen in 2021 if we will not up the coverage,” Silva said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

The DOH’s latest measles campaign comes after the country declared one of the world’s worst outbreaks in 2019, with 48,525 cases recorded. 

The health department had earlier put on hold its polio vaccination campaign due to the pandemic, but resumed it in July and August. It hit its targeted coverage of 95%.

Why does this matter?

Silva cited the importance of timing in mounting the mass immunization campaign if the Philippines is to avoid responding to another outbreak during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s very critical that we do this now because…the cases of measles in 2020 last quarter has been going down so this supplemental immunization activity, in the true sense of the word, is going to prevent the future outbreak. We don’t want to respond to an outbreak; we want to prevent an outbreak,” she said. 

“Vaccines and vaccination is the only way to go to prevent a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak,” Silva added.

For the Philippines, supplemental immunization activities may also test the country's immunization coverage rates which had just recovered before the pandemic hit. 

While recent immunization rounds for polio saw a significant increase in participation among children and their families, the DOH measles immunization campaign struggled to reach targets in 2019 due to vaccine hesitancy fueled by the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine scare.

Silva said the DOH’s latest vaccination activities showed confidence and trust in immunization once again increasing. The huge challenge now is safely completing immunization campaigns during the pandemic. 

What to expect

The nationwide measles rubella-oral polio vaccine supplemental immunization activity (MR-OPV SIA) will be rolled out in two phases. 

Phase 1 will be conducted from October 26 to November 25, 2020 in the following areas:

  • Mindanao 
  • Cordillera Administrative Region 
  • Ilocos region
  • Cagayan Valley region
  • Mimaropa
  • Bicol Region

Phase 2 will be conducted in February 2021 in the following areas:

  • Metro Manila 
  • Central Luzon 
  • Calabarzon
  • Western Visayas 
  • Central Visayas 
  • Eastern Visayas

For phase 1, the DOH aims to vaccinate 4.3 million children between the ages of 9 to 59 months for measles, and 2.1 children from 0 to 59 months for polio. In phase 2, the targeted group includes 5.1 million children for measles vaccination and 4.7 million for polio vaccination. 

In a statement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III urged parents and caregivers to have their children immunized. The DOH reiterated that the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, and free. 

Duque also gave assurances that healthcare workers have been trained on infection prevention and control, and provided with personal protective equipment when conducting immunization activities. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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