More than just another Jab: The role of vaccines in helping prevent certain diseases
Vaccines have had a significant positive impact on human health. Their administration has led to a drop in the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases that were historically fatal to millions. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the world was reminded of the vital role that a single vaccine plays not just for one’s health but for the well-being of populations around the globe.
“COVID-19 vaccines are one of the most incredible medical advances in history. Unfortunately, many people do not appreciate the level of importance of vaccines. These vaccines will be the solution, the way for us to end this current pandemic,” said Dr. Melvin Sanicas, Infectious Diseases Global Health Specialist and Ten Outstanding Young Men 2021 Awardee.
This year’s World Immunization Week theme, “Long Life for All,” highlights that we have a part in promoting the use of all available vaccines to help protect people of all ages against disease.
In line with this year’s theme of ‘Long Life for All,’ the ImMUnity Team of the Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine(UPCM), held a webinar entitled ImMUnization: A Passport to Longevity. This brought focus on the relevance of immunization through the ages and for all ages. The event was organized bythe UP Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, the Mu Sigma Phi Foundation, and health care company MSD in the Philippines.
Keeping its commitment to promoting vaccine confidencealongside the health community, MSD actively engages in multi-stakeholder collaborations, such as the advocacy partnership with UPCM – Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, Inc., to address the challenges of vaccine hesitancy and emphasize the importance of a life-course vaccination. MSD also supports campaigns that aim to enhance vaccine confidence by communicating the value of immunization in helping save lives and preventing vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.
A life-course approach to immunization
Vaccination programs often focus on distinct life stages, such as childhood immunization, but evidence supports a life-course approach where vaccination is given throughout an individual’s life. The life-course approach to vaccination stems from the simple fact that the risk of infectious diseases extends far beyond childhood and into old age. With this life-course vaccine approach, not only individuals will reap the benefits, but it will also have a favorable impact on public health and socioeconomics.
The National Immunization Program (NIP) of the Department of Health aims to provide Filipinos access to routinely recommended vaccines. It also aims to help reduce the morbidity and mortality among children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) like tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles. The program currently provides vaccines against VPDs for newborns, infants, older children, pregnant women, and senior citizens.
The government’s vaccination services are set to continue with adaptive guidelines to help protect vulnerable age groups like senior citizens, who are more prone to acquiring pneumococcal diseases. It is also stipulated under RA 9994 or the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010” that indigent senior citizens are entitled to free vaccinations for pneumonia and influenza.
“Please ensure children have the right vaccination because they are our future. Let’s give them a long and fruitful life in a country where vaccination is at the forefront of our health delivery system in previous years,” Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Executive Director Dr. Lulu Bravo emphasized.
Despite the evidence of health gains from immunization programs, some groups have always resisted vaccines. Dr. Bravohoped to address this by highlighting the importance of vaccines and sharing practical tips on how to deal with vaccine hesitancy.
“Vaccines do not kill. Misinformation and disinformation kill,”Dr. Bravo emphasized. She stressed that communication plays an essential role in fighting vaccine hesitancy and relaying the message about how vaccines work for our health and the community.
Building vaccine confidence and a more resilient health system require addressing the stigma surrounding vaccination, which prohibits many people from getting the vaccinations that will help protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Engage with the hesitant people. There is no single solution. We must understand their motivation. People need to be listened to, and vaccination framed in a way that it matters to them,” she encouraged. “You can help by positively shaping public perception of the benefits of immunization. Increase awareness of the burden of diseases in life and the economy. Dispel myths and rumors on immunization.”
The Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority (MSPS) also helped spur awareness about the benefits of vaccines through a social media campaign on TikTok. “Social media is an important tool in our arsenal to educate and urge Filipinos, especially the youth, about vaccination. Through this campaign, we hoped to engage them in this popular platform and emphasize how vaccines help save lives,” shared Ron Villas, MSPS Service Committee Chairperson.
Meanwhile, Dr. Beverly Ho, Director IV of the Department of Health, Health Promotion Bureau, enumerated the government’s programs and campaigns to promote acceptance and usage of vaccines. “Vaccines may offer protection from vaccine-preventable diseases across life stages. Among the vaccines provided for free under the National Immunization program include vaccines against tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, polio, pneumonia, measles, mumps, and rubella.
Dr. Ho underscored that routine immunization is the foundation for strong, resilient health systems and universal health coverage. “However, we also want to inform the public that routine immunization is only a part of the overall health program of the government, and there is still a need for regular consultations at your local health centers.”
Dr. Ho further emphasized that “immunization is just one of the basic health services that infants, children, teenagers, women, and senior citizens need, and part of the department’s catch-up immunization program is to vaccinate at least 80% of the remaining 1,100,000 infants who missed their routine immunization in 2021 due the pandemic.”
Having a resilient and sustainable immunization system depends on building vaccine confidence. Hence, stronger collaboration among stakeholders plays a crucial role in raising awareness about how vaccines may help protect oneself, one’s family, and the community from vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as emphasizing vaccines’ importance at all stages in the pursuit of building a healthy citizenry.
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