While the Philippine government strategy for fighting the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has been to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, significant work has to be done to undo the long-term damage wrought by the politically motivated campaign that targeted the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia that is seen as one of the main drivers of plummeting child immunization rates in the country.
The significant and worrying drop in childhood immunization in the Philippines, from 87 percent in 2014 to 68 percent, has already resulted in a measles epidemic and the reemergence of polio.
Vaccination-related misinformation disseminated widely on social media has undermined confidence in all types of immunizations and although President Rodrigo Duterte’s faith in a COVID-19 vaccine as the only solution to the country’s pandemic woes may have restored some faith in the concept of vaccination in general, the statistics as far as vaccination programs are concerned are cause for additional concern when it comes to implementation of that strategy.
The Department of Health has announced a nationwide immunization campaign to control the polio outbreak and stop a predicted measles outbreak in 2021. This comes after the country declared one of the world’s worst measles outbreaks in 2019 with 48,525 cases recorded.
The DOH’s latest vaccination activities have showed growing confidence and trust in immunization and while the pandemic has presented additional challenges for the campaign, restoring vaccination levels for established vaccines such as measles and polio will be critical if Filipinos are going to count on a COVID-19 vaccine.
Filipinos will need to restore their faith in vaccination if we are going to stop vaccine preventable diseases such as measles and polio. The DOH is doing its best to undo the damage wrought by the misinformation that had been allowed to spread against vaccines and at the same time, prepare our population to be ready to accept the COVID-19 vaccine if and when it does become widely available in this country. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors who may have been led astray when it comes to the importance of all established vaccines, not just the COVID-19 vaccine that our government seems to have placed all its bets on.*