MANILA, 24 April 2020 – UNICEF calls for the promotion and continuation of routine immunization efforts as the Philippines’ health services face the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this year’s World Immunization Week from 24-30 April a majority of communities in the country are under enhanced community quarantine, with routine immunization services disrupted or suspended, possibly affecting at least two million children below two years old who are most vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases.
In the Philippines, childhood immunization coverage has been declining sharply in recent years from 87 per cent in 2014 to 68 per cent in 2019, exposing children to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio. The recent measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2019 saw a staggering 130 per cent increase in cases compared to the same period in 2018. Polio re-emerged in the country in 2019 with 17 confirmed cases and health experts fear an increase as the polio outbreak response had to be suspended due to COVID-19.
Predicting vaccines stock out, reaching remote areas and disadvantaged children as well as increasing budget and staff of local governments are needed to prevent a further decline in immunization rates. UNICEF encourages Local Government Units (LGUs) with no known cases of COVID-19 and who have adequate immunization staff and vaccines to continue immunization activities if feasible. The Department of Health (DOH) issued Interim Guidelines for the Immunization Services in the Context of the COVID-19 Outbreak on March 25 to help local authorities in decision-making.
“We recognize the vital role that health workers play during this challenging time. They are heroes in the frontlines risking their lives and the health and welfare of their families. We must do all we can to support, empower and invest in their safety, training and well-being, as they encourage parents to vaccinate against preventable diseases that remain a very real threat to children,” says UNICEF Philippines Country Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.
UNICEF emphasizes that lifesaving health interventions like immunization cannot be neglected in our efforts to contain COVID-19. Catch-up immunization and intensified immunization activities are deeply needed once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who missed vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children.
“Vaccines protect children against harmful disease and death, saving up to three million lives every year, or more than five lives saved every minute of every day. Vaccines are scientifically proven to be safe and effective to prevent diseases,” UNICEF Philippines Chief of Health and Nutrition Programme Dr. Wigdan Madani says.
UNICEF is investing around PhP 85 million in the next three years to support the Department of Health and other partners to increase immunization coverage by helping strengthen routine immunization and improve processes to procure and distribute vaccines. UNICEF also helps at the barangay or village level to strengthen local governance mechanisms, create ordinances and health committees, improve data and monitoring, conduct training and communicate health messages effectively.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.