DOH: COVID-19 complicating polio vaccination campaign

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DOH: COVID-19 complicating polio vaccination campaign
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 coronavirus pandemic is complicating the government’s polio immunization campaign for children under five years old, an official of the Department of Health said Friday.

Dr. Maria Wilda Silva, national immunization program director of the DOH, said the health crisis has affected polio immunization in the first semester of 2020, especially in areas where transmission is widespread.

“The National Capital Region as well as Calabarzon are not performing very well. They have mentioned that because of the COVID-19 situation, their areas being epicenter of COVID-19 is hindering their performance of routine immunization services,” Silva said in a media briefing.

Silva, however, said Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol region, Cordillera Administrative Region and the Davao region are doing “very good” despite the current situation.

The government resumed its Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio Campaign last month, beginning with the third round of the vaccination drive in Mindanao from July 20 to August 2, covering 3.4 million children or 98.1% of the target.

The phased approach began in Central Luzon last month. The immunization campaign in Calabarzon, meanwhile, started on August 3.

Data from the DOH showed that some 681,540 children in Central Luzon and Calabarzon had not been vaccinated during the first round.

Silva also said that Calamba City and Pakil town in Laguna decided to postpone the conduct of the first phase of the immunization campaign due to COVID-19 fears.

The department aims to vaccinate 1.347 million children in Central Luzon and 1.128 million children in Calabarzon. The second round of polio vaccinations in these areas will resume in September.

Shortage of health workers

Silva also said there were instances when vaccinators needed to undergo mandatory quarantine after being exposed to the novel coronavirus.

“Makikita natin despite the planning and microplanning na ginagawa natin, although in the beginning nagiging sapat ‘yung ating number of health workers pero di maiiwasan they will be exposed because they’re doing both Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio Campaign and also assisting in COVID-19 efforts,” Silva said.

(Despite the planning and micro-planning that we are doing, although in the start there were enough health workers, it can’t be avoided that they will be exposed while they’re doing both Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio Campaign and also assisting in COVID-19 efforts.)

“Kaya nababawasan ‘yung healh workers na nagsasagawa ng pagbakuna dahil kailangan nilang sumailalim sa quarantine alinsunod sa polisiya on COVID-19 transmission control,” she added.

(That’s why the number of health workers doing vaccination is decreasing because they need to undergo quarantine.)

To address the shortage in health workers, local governments and the department’s regional offices are allowed to tap volunteers to conduct polio vaccination.

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 25 children have been confirmed to have contracted polio in the country since 2019. Sixteen of these cases have permanent disabilities, while the remaining nine did not suffer from disability but were found to be shedding poliovirus.

Most of the polio infections were from Mindanao.

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