Medical and health experts are optimistic that the country may enjoy a healthier, safer Christmas this year with an opportunity to get the whole family vaccinated in the upcoming 3-day National Vaccination Day on November 29-30 and December 1.
The Philippine Medical Association’s (PMA) campaign, themed “Masaya ang Pasko ng Bakunadong Pamilyang Pilipino,” is in line with the government’s drive to get 15 million more Filipinos inoculated during the three-day nationwide event.
With the long Christmas holiday’s tradition of gathering entire clans together, PMA President Dr. Benny Atienza remarked that their younger members should also receive protection against COVID-19. He expressed his “hope that children are vaccinated and we encourage parents, barangays, and LGUs to join us in our National Vaccination Day. Public and private entities are working as one to disseminate benefits of vaccination.”
Dr. Atienza added that vaccine hesitancy can be overcome by continuous dissemination of correct medical information to all demographics, young and old: “The PMA believes in teaching empowerment. We will continue implementing innovative activities that will raise standard health education among young children and their respective communities.”
Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), agreed about teaching children about vaccination at an early age because “they can lead us to the end of this pandemic.” She further urged the adult members of society, especially the parents, to “be a hero, by saving your lives and your loved ones through vaccination.”
Reason for children vaccination
There are pressing if little-known, medical reasons to include children and teens in COVID-19 vaccination. Although perceived as “more low risk, they can get very sick with COVID-19. They can also get short and long-term complications,” explained Dr. Nina G. Gloriani, Chairperson of the Vaccine Expert Panel, Technical Working Group for COVID-19 Vaccines, Department of Science and Technology. “Children can spread COVID-19 via droplets. We have to underscore the fact that unvaccinated children can be asymptomatic.”
Dr. Gloriani added that COVID-19 children vaccination had already started with those who have comorbidities, focusing first on the 16-17-year-olds, and then proceeding to the 12-to-14-year-old demographic. She also acknowledged that “almost 50% of the targeted Filipino individuals have received their first doses, 74 million doses in total. The more recent is 103 million jabs. The number of jabs a day is a million in the NCR. “
Dr. Eric Tayag, Director of the National Epidemiology Center in the Department of Health (DOH), added that the vaccination of children should be ongoing, not just against COVID-19 but also “preventable diseases. We are having catch-up vaccinations on measles, diphtheria, and hemophilia. We protect the children when we vaccinate them.”
Enrique Gonzalez, Founder and Chairman of IPB/Family Vaccines Specialty Clinics (FVSC), affirmed that “Ensuring the safety of vaccines to children is of prime importance.” He also pointed out that SinoVac, the vaccine his company distributes, is doing a global trial on children’s COVID-19 vaccination in several countries. The more agile regulators in nations like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Chile have been using SinoVac under the Emergency Use Agreement, acting “quickly in ensuring that kids are protected when they go back to school.”
Gonzalez gave another insight on the importance of quick mass vaccination, saying: “It is critical to helping the country recover and get back on its feet. Vaccines prevent severe symptoms and hospitalization. It is important that the public continue to have access to vaccines so we can achieve and maintain herd immunity.”
Prior to the pandemic, FVSC has been at the forefront of inoculation against infectious diseases to the marginalized, subsidizing 50,000 vaccinations for the rural poor across more than 18 provinces.
Accomplished journalist Niña Corpuz gave her perspective on vaccination as a mother of three kids. Addressing the understandable fears of parents, she said that “webinars and access to experts and research show that there is no reason to be hesitant. If vaccines come out for younglings, I would be among the first to give vaccines to my children.”
Education vs. fake news
Finally, amidst the gradual reopening of onsite classes in the country, Dr. Maria Corazon C. Dumlao, Chief of the Department of Education’s Bureau of Learner Support Services – School Health Division, affirmed their support for “pediatric vaccinations against COVID-19. Immunization activities are being conducted with learners continue during the pandemic.” Other initiatives include allowing schools to become vaccination sites and coming up with strategies related to vaccination campaigns.
Miguel Bermundo, Senior Manager of Sustainability and Social Responsibility of Globe Telecom, agreed that education and fighting vaccine disinformation are vital to increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Through their many platforms, programs, and partnerships with groups like the UNICEF, “we use our digital resources and network to fight harm against kids online and the proliferation of fake news.”
As the National Vaccination Day approaches, Dr. Bravo exhorted the public to be well-informed and join health advocacy that can provide a better life for themselves and their families: “We should prepare for a pandemic preparedness plan—this will not be the last. We should value experts’ opinions. Be a vaccine advocate, someone who can lead us to restore vaccine confidence and fight vaccine hesitancy.”