The Department of Health (DOH) together with Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. (J&J Philippines), University of the Philippines, College of Public Health, SEAMEO TROPMED Philippines have come together to share resources regarding vaccines and address common fears, hesitancy, and misconceptions from the public in line with the World Immunization Week through a webinar entitled Kahalagahan sa Pagtutuloy ng Bakuna Para sa Healthy Pilipinas. The groups also worked together for a week of eventful activities to strengthen vaccination advocacy in the Philippines.
“Over the course of the pandemic, a lot of vaccine controversies, anti-vaxxer movements and misinformation have emerged through various social media platforms in the form of fake news and videos. Through this webinar, we hope that we will be effective instruments for vital information to reach the public, in the hope that this will help us achieve a healthier Pilipinas, free from disease through the tried and tested disease and prevention strategy called immunization,” opened Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., dean and center director of UPMCPH and SEAMEO TROPMED Philippines.
In previous years, DOH has been focused on sharing information about vaccines for children, but people know and believe that vaccines are of great importance even for adults, especially the elderly. This year, groups have been looking forward to strengthening their advocacy for vaccination against vaccine-preventable diseases, and the goal for this year’s World Immunization Week is to make their voices even louder so that more people can hear and understand the importance of being up to date with vaccines.
The DOH’s program manager, Dr. Kim Patrick Tejano shared that the COVID-19 pandemic ushered an increase in susceptible children who have not received routine immunizations due to prioritization of COVID-19 services, and even more challenges with the quarantine restrictions in the country. Despite this, the DOH National Immunization Program (NIP) and its partners have launched proactive approaches and initiatives which include intensified catch-up and Community-Based Immunization for barangays and schools. dedicated vaccination days (Bakuna Wednesdays) and tie up of delivery services with external stakeholders, as well as reaching people through house-to-house efforts. The DOH has also implemented Chikiting Bakunation Days. which is a routine and catch-up immunization conducted every last Thursday and Friday of April, May, and June.
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation regarding vaccines were recognized as part of the top 10 public health challenges in the last two years. This phenomenon has fueled global outbreaks of previously controlled vaccine preventable diseases like measles and polio.
Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination and Professor Emeritus of UP Manila College of Medicine, addressed vaccine hesitancy through her presentation entitled, Kakaba ka ba sa bakuna? She shared, “To bring back vaccine confidence, we must focus on the top three reasons for hesitancy: lack of understanding of the science behind vaccines, intensified education campaigns and addressing underlying socio-cultural factors. Earning public trust is a priority. Dialogues and communication with political leaders, influencers, and the public is important to turn the tide against the rise of vaccine hesitancy.”
Partnerships between the public and private sectors have also generated incremental progress in providing communities with basic healthcare necessities and administering vaccines. Sustaining this, and a consistent alignment between private clinicians and public health authorities, are needed so that the sectors and components of the population that need help can receive the service due to them.
“We saw the big role of the industry, private companies for organizing and deployment of vaccines for the public. And it is even more beneficial to link with communities and professional medical societies to reach more people to improve services, manpower and trust,” shared Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, Chief of the Section of infectious and Tropical Diseases and Department of Pediatrics, of UP – Philippine General Hospital.
Dr. Jillian Lee, Provincial Health Officer II, Province of Dinagat Islands, tackled the issue of accessibility of primary care as the Dinagat Islands Province of 128,000 people only have 21 available physicians. The expectations that families have their own primary care are unfortunately not applicable to a lot of rural communities, but that doesn’t mean that these relationships do not exist. “In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of personnel and staff deployed and we saw how significant personal interactions were, especially for senior citizens. Trust on physicians and health care providers are vital to working towards eliminating vaccine hesitancy,” said Dr Lee.
Way forward strategies in the pipeline to address and curb vaccine hesitancy include research and innovation, planning to forecast future situations and help policy development, understanding socio cultural and political contexts, developing effective dialogue and communications platforms involving all key stakeholders, and by continuing efforts to ensure that politicians and policy makers understand the nature of evidence and science.
“We know that vaccination is very important especially for diseases that can be prevented with vaccination. We hope that the hesitancy in the country will be decreased through the information we pro-actively disseminate everyday and through our campaigns to reach many localities in the country. We hope that we can also attain an increased number of vaccinations for COVID-19 in the country so we can continue to safeguard our fellow Filipinos,” closed Dr. Erwin Benedicto, Head of Medical Affairs of J&J Philippines.