The best way health professionals can counter the anti-vaccination movements is by educating families on the nature of vaccination and ensuring that comprehensive immunization schedules are strictly followed.

Although the level of opposition to immunization in the Philippines is not comparable to that in India and the United States, much still needs to be done to ensure children do not contract vaccine-preventable diseases.

“We have not as much challenge, but the ‘silent majority’ needs to be activated so that it [anti-claims] will not spread, because it can if we put our shield down,” said Dr Lulu Bravo, the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) executive director and Professor Emeritus of the Pediatric Infectious and Tropical Diseases, University of the Philippines.

Dr Bravo, who has 40 years of work on vaccines, was speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine National Immunization Conference held November 9 and 10 in Alabang. She said that the PFV is an advocate group all for correct information dissemination regarding vaccines.

Vaccine controversies, most notably the anti-vaccine movement, include “scares” regarding the the vaccine's’ safety and efficacy. Scientific consensus regard recommended vaccines as safe and effective.

The country needs to have at least 90 percent coverage rate of immunization to ensure children are properly protected and outbreaks can be averted, she said. Immunization has already saved millions of lives worldwide.

‘An enemy of its own’

Unfortunately, the Philippine national statistic on immunization coverage has fallen to 69 percent in 2016, from 74.5 percent in 2013.

Secretary of Health Francisco Duque III, while noting that vaccination is a significant tool in achieving universal health care, referred to the national declining rate as challenging and lamentable.

“Vaccination programmes became so successful that they became an enemy of their own,” added Dr Sally Gatchalian, vice president of the Philippine Pediatric Society. It is possible that because people rarely see a vaccine-preventable disease, they begin to question why they - or their children - should be immunized.

Vaccinations are given to protect the public from outbreaks, according to Health Assistant Secretary Dr Lyndon Lee Suy.

“We give vaccines not because a child is sick, but to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.

For instance, the department cannot stop vaccination for a certain vaccine-preventable disease just because its number of cases is low, and the reason why it's precisely low is because vaccines are routinely given, he further explained.

‘Need not be bothered’

Meanwhile, the Health department said anti-vaccination movements are not bad per se, particularly if their intention is good. “We should not be bothered if there are such movements. The purpose is to provide information for as long as the intention is for the betterment,” Asec Lee Suy said.

This should not be a concern, unless it becomes a hindrance. For now, health professionals need to go on with the schedule, the health official encouraged.

The 2018 budget of DOH for immunization is Php 7.4 billion, a vast improvement from 2005’s Php 360 million allocation. MIMS