Philippines resumes polio vaccination campaign as COVID-19 crisis deepens

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Philippines resumes polio vaccination campaign as COVID-19 crisis deepens
A father watches as a health worker (L) administers polio vaccine on his child during a vaccination drive at an informal settlers area in Manila on October 14, 2019.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is resuming vaccinations against polio Monday, months after the drive against the highly infectious disease was halted because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign in the whole Mindanao begins Monday and will last until August 2 for children under five years old, the Department of Health, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a joint release. Children below 10 years old in selected areas in Mindanao will also receive polio drops.

New polio immunization campaigns for children under five years old, meanwhile, begins in a phased approach in Central Luzon Monday and in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal in August.

'Polio outbreak not over'

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said continuous implementation of polio campaign will not only prevent the debilitating effects of the disease but will also interrupt the transmission of the virus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nineteen years after it was eradicated in the country, polio emerged in September last year. The resurgence of the illness came after the Philippines was hit by measles and dengue outbreaks early in 2019 stoked by falling vaccination rates.

Polio, a disease that mainly affects young children who have not completed their vaccination schedules, can cause paralysis. The illness has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.

At least 16 children have been confirmed to have contracted polio in the country since 2019. 

“We have to remember that the polio outbreak is not over, so it is critical that we continue this life-saving work of immunizing our children against this debilitating disease, while responding to COVID-19,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative in the Philippines, said.

He also urged children, parents and health workers participating in the drive to practice preventive measures such as frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing of masks.

Before the effort was halted by the pandemic, the Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign reached 4.5 million children in Metro Manila and Mindanao.

The UNICEF earlier said at least two million Filipino children could miss out on immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases as authorities attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus that has already infected 67,456 people in the country.

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