Unprecedented times call for strengthened vaccine confidence
Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective and successful public health interventions available. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization is one of modern medicine’s greatest success stories that has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases.
“At least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015 thanks to vaccinations delivered around the world. Many millions more lives were protected from the suffering and disability associated with diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, whooping cough, measles, and polio. Successful immunization programmes also enable national priorities, like education and economic development.” WHO said. However, vaccine hesitancy threatens the global progress we have made in combating the spread of many serious and preventable infectious diseases.
Despite accomplishments of vaccination programs in the past decades, there is more work to do. Efforts to build vaccine-resilient communities need to be doubled down especially now in a time of pandemic. Given the COVID-19 situation vaccine confidence becomes critical, as strong confidence in the vaccines within communities leads to more people getting vaccinated, which leads to fewer cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
To emphasize the critical role of immunization in protecting the health of the community, the University of the Philippines College of Medicine’s (UPCM) Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority held a webinar titled “Dapat Ba Akong Magpabakuna? Ang Bakuna Bilang Lunas sa Pandemya”
“Immunization is considered today as one of the greatest achievements in public health. We need to realize that it is important for us to believe that immunization works and it is important for us, not just as individuals, but also for our families, our communities, and our country,” said Dr. Regina Berba, Head of Philippine General Hospital Infection Control Unit.
The theme of this year’s World Immunization Week reminds us that vaccines have brought us closer and will bring us closer again. Investment and new research are enabling groundbreaking approaches to vaccine development, which are changing the science of immunization forever, bringing us closer still to a healthier future.
But to combat vaccine misinformation at home and around the globe, we must build trust. One way to do that is deepening public’s knowledge on immunization and its benefits. Vaccine development is a rigorous process requiring time and resources, normally about 10 to 15 years. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine development process is unprecedented. It was developed within a year. Researchers and physicians from across the globe are making an incredible effort in developing vaccines and other medical products that are considered strategic to the fight against COVID-19.
Government has placed stringent policies to ensure that vaccines are safe to use. According to Republic Act 9711 or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Act of 2009, the Philippine government requires registration of drugs and vaccines prior to marketing activities. However, this process takes years to implement. To address the need for immediate utilization of available vaccines and drugs against coronavirus, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 121 s. 2020 or the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for COVID-19 Drugs and Vaccines.
“Even though the clinical trial Phase 3 is still ongoing, as long as we have enough data to show safety and efficacy, we can use the vaccine during the pandemic. Before we allow EUA, there are criteria to follow. And they have to meet 3 out of 3”, explained Health Undersecretary Dr. Eric Domingo.
The following conditions must be met before a candidate vaccine is given EUA by the FDA: (1) based on the totality of evidence available, including data from adequate and well-known controlled trials, it is reasonable to believe that the drug or vaccine may be useful to prevent, diagnose, or treat COVID-19; (2) the known and potential benefits of the drug or vaccine when used to diagnose, prevent, or treat COVID-19 outweigh the known and potential risks of the drug or vaccine, if any; and (3) there is no adequate, approved, and available alternative to the drug or vaccine for diagnosing, preventing or treating COVID-19.
“Napakahalaga ng bakuna sa COVID-19. Kung EUA-approved na, panatag na ang ating loob na ligtas at epektibo ang bakuna. Kung mabigyan tayo ng pagkakataon na mabigyan ng bakuna, ay pumayag tayo na magpabakuna,” (Vaccine is very important for COVID-19. If the vaccine is EUA-approved, we are confident that it’s safe and effective. If we are given the chance to receive a vaccine, let’s get vaccinated) Dr. Berba assured the public.
Immunization as a public health strategy
While the coronavirus pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of the healthcare sector, it also highlighted the critical role of immunization in abating infectious diseases.
“Gusto po natin hangga’t maaari makabalik tayo sa mas mabuting normal… Hindi lang naman COVID yung problema natin. Mayroon pang ibang healthcare conditions na kapag hindi maayos ang COVID situation hindi rin nakakapagpakonsulta ang ibang pasyente natin para sa iba pang mga bagay at syempre alam natin yung effect natin sa ekonomiya. Mayroon itong impact sa mga trabaho,” (We want to return to a better normal. COVID is not the only problem we face. We have several other healthcare conditions. If we do not address the COVID situation properly, our other patients are unable to get their regular consultations. Overall, this has an effect to our economy. This affects employment.) highlighted Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, Director of Health Promotion and Communication Service at DOH.
The Department of Health (DOH) urged the public to obtain routine immunization offered by the government. Despite community quarantines and limited movements, health centers continue to operate and provide vaccinations against vaccine-preventable diseases, including the pneumonia vaccine, to offer protection to the more vulnerable population, the elderly and those with co-morbidities from another common form of community-acquired pneumonia – bacterial (streptococcal) pneumonia.
“Proteksyunan natin ang ating mga anak laban sa vaccine-preventable diseases. Ang pagbabakuna laban sa tigdas, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pneumonia at iba ay safe, epektibo at libre sa ating mga health center. Mabisang paraan ang pagbabakuna upang maiwasan ang nakakahawang mga sakit na ito at yung mga komplikasyon na dulot nila. Ibalik ang tiwala sa bakuna,” (Let’s protect our children from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines for measles, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and pneumonia are available for free at local health centers. Vaccines may reduce the risk of getting infectious disease and its complications. Let us bring back vaccine confidence) said Usec. Domingo.
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise in the Philippines, ensuring strong demand for and promoting acceptance of vaccines is critical to achieving herd immunity, protecting the most vulnerable populations, and reopening social and economic life.
To watch the full webinar, you can visit the ImMUnity: An Ounce of Prevention Facebook page.