Parents told: Be sure kids get vaxxed against polio


TO ensure there will never be an outbreak again, the Department of Health, the World Health Organization UNICEF and Rotary International urged all parents to have their children vaccinated against preventable diseases, especially polio.

“While we have successfully eradicated polio, we have to ensure that there will never be an outbreak again and it begins with vaccination. We call on the parents to ensure that your child gets their routine immunization so they can be protected against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said. He recalled  that in June 2021, the Philippines announced the closure of the polio outbreak in the country following 18 months of outbreak response which vaccinated over 11 million children, many of whom received polio drops during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Duque stressed that this month, the DOH has launched the ‘Catch-up Routine Immunization’ to ensure delivery of National Immunization Program services to children.

“The vaccines for routine immunization are safe and free, just coordinate with your local health centers,” Duque added, partly in Filipino.

PRC commitment

Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) marked #WorldPolioDay with the theme, “One Day. One Focus: Ending Polio–delivering on our promise of a polio-free world!”

PRC Chairman and CEO Sen. Richard Gordon said, “The Philippine Red Cross puts a high premium on the health and welfare of children. We are always in pursuit of maximizing the number of children immunized since because this ensures not only their well-being but also their future.”

Despite the pandemic and existing vaccine hesitancy in the country, PRC volunteers and staff travel to far-flung places nationwide to support the DOH’s campaign in stamping out a polio outbreak in a 16-month drive that ended last June 2021, a feat commended by the WHO and UNICEF.

Protect people from polio

DOH launched the catch-up immunization campaign on October 13, 2021, starting in the National Capital Region.

The campaign aims to reach children under two years old with missed vaccine doses, including those for polio.

“Once a commonplace illness, polio has been eliminated from most countries, including now again in the Philippines. This shows the power of vaccines to save lives and protect people from diseases such as polio,” said World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

Abeyasinghe said that every disease outbreak strains a nation’s resources—most importantly its health workers—especially when they are challenged with responding to a pandemic.

“We should do everything necessary to prevent another outbreak of polio or any other vaccine-preventable disease such as measles, rubella, diphtheria. The lives and health of our children are at stake. Our plea to parents: please ensure that your children have received all the routine childhood vaccines including polio doses as we prepare for them to go back to schools and early learning centres,” Abeyasinghe added.

Polio is a highly infectious, crippling, and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are most vulnerable to contracting polio.

In the Philippines, children under one year old receive their primary doses of the polio vaccines during routine immunization— three doses of polio drops and one dose of inactivated polio vaccine. However, in 2020, nearly half a million Filipino children missed out on oral polio drops for routine immunization due to challenges in accessing health services during the pandemic.

“We have already come so far in our fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. We call on the whole of society to intensify polio immunization to sustain our gains and prevent the further decline of polio immunization coverage. Our shared accomplishments solidify the message that with our joint efforts, vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic,” UNICEF Representative Ms. Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said.

Vaccine works

For her part, Mary Anne Alcordo Solomon, Rotary International Zone 10A (Philippines) End Polio Now Coordinator assured, “Vaccines work—the fact that we are close to ending polio is proof of this.”

“However, we are not yet there and we must fulfill our promise to children to make the world polio-free. We still need to intensify our campaign to raise awareness and raise funds for polio. By doing these together, we can end polio now,” said Solomon.

WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International are among the partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments. Other GPEI partners are the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Aside from vaccination, DOH is also working with partners to strengthen environmental and Acute Flaccid Paralysis surveillance throughout the country to detect polioviruses.

Globally, polio remains endemic in only two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan. When these countries become polio-free, polio will be only the second disease next to smallpox to be eradicated.

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