Everyone of us should take part to help convincing the public to trust in vaccination. I can say that because of vaccination I’m still alive and throughout history, the development of vaccines has played a valuable role in protecting people and controlling potentially deadly infectious diseases like measles, polio, small pox, and diphtheria among others.
However, recent issues on vaccine hesitancy and a lack of awareness on the benefits of proper vaccination led to a decline in vaccine uptake. One result is the recent outbreak of measles in the country, with 28,362 measles cases having been reported since January this year, and 389 deaths caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
Last April 26, I am glad I was invited to attend the forum that organized by Mu Sigma Phi Sorority, the first recognized medical sorority in Asia. Forum entitle, “Vaccine Confidence in the Philippines, a Public Health Crisis”. They reiterate the critical role of vaccines in preventing epidemic diseases and it was held at the Museum of a History of Ideas, University of the Philippines in Manila, was attended by various stakeholders composed of students, doctors, and healthcare workers.
The forum is part of Mu Sigma Phi’s service project called “ImMUnity: An Ounce of Prevention,” which advocates the importance of safeguarding one’s health through proper vaccination. It aims to support the Department of Health’s (DOH) thrust to restore public trust and confidence in the life-saving benefits of vaccination.
The forum also coincided with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Immunization Week. The global initiative is dedicated to pushing for the collective action needed to ensure that every person is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. This worldwide observance encourages multi-stakeholder efforts to continue increasing immunization coverage.
DOH Undersecretary and keynote speaker Dr. Eric Domingo discussed how crucial it is to disseminate correct knowledge on immunization. He also shared updates on how the government is improving access to vaccination for more Filipinos with the help of non-government organizations, medical societies, and the private sector.
“Vaccine confidence is not an issue that can be addressed at an individual level. It is a multi-faceted issue and multiple stakeholders involved in immunization have a role to play,” said Dr. Domingo.3
Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) and Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines Manila - College of Medicine, led the lecture on restoring vaccine confidence and the importance of vaccination in health care and in mitigating epidemics.
“Public health authorities are calling for a greater understanding of vaccine hesitancy and outlining steps to address the factors which contribute to it, such as those related to complacency about vaccine-preventable diseases and the vaccines that can prevent them. Multi-stakeholder action is strongly needed to break these barriers and to reach out to diverse populations,” noted Dr. Bravo.
Joining the discussion were Dr. Sally Gatchalian, President of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and Past President of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP), and Dr. Shelley Ann Dela Vega, President of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV). In her presentation, Dr. Gatchalian highlighted the importance of vaccination for children.
“The government administers basic vaccines that are needed by children, particularly in those less than one year of age.4 Uptake of high quality vaccines should be increased to protect this most vulnerable group, and bring to light that vaccines are important, safe, and effective,” emphasized Dr. Gatchalian.
Mu Sigma Phi Sorority also reinforces the significance of an effective synergy among multiple stakeholders ranging from individuals and communities to health systems, governments, and public health leaders to be able to create a more resilient immunization system that will help build trust and sustain demand for immunization despite controversies that might arise, with the goal of preventing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and saving more lives.
The forum also highlighted the launch of Mu Sigma Phi Sorority’s ImMUnity Mobile Application. It is a user-friendly app that features an immunization record and tracker, an information atlas of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and a notification system for vaccine recommendations. Another highlight of the event was the promotion of the #BalikTiwalaBalikBakuna Advocacy Campaign. ImMUnity is now on its 10th year and is continuing its crusade to restore and build on the success of many public health campaigns on vaccination.