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Confidence in childhood vaccines drops in Philippines — report


Confidence in childhood vaccines has decreased by 25% in the Philippines, putting children in the country at a higher risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The Philippines has the second to the highest number of zero-dose children in East Asia and the Pacific region and the fifth highest worldwide, according to UNICEF’s “The State of the World’s Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination” report. Most of these children are in Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Western Visayas.

Between Jan. 1 and March 11, moreover, a total of 208 measles cases were recorded. This is a 478% increase from the same period in 2022.  

Measles infections pose a high risk in all regions of the Philippines, according to the report.

“This data is a worrying warning signal. We cannot allow confidence in routine immunizations to become another victim of the pandemic. Otherwise, the next wave of deaths could be of more children with measles, diphtheria or other preventable diseases,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF executive director, said in a statement on April 19.

Vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines is attributed to cultural factors, distrust towards vaccination programs, and concerns on vaccine safety. Elsewhere, factors include uncertainty about the response to the pandemic, growing access to misleading information, declining trust in expertise, and political polarization.  

The global report for 2023 also said that 67 million kids did not receive vaccinations from 2019 to 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries. Only China, India, and Mexico showed an increase or no change in how much people valued vaccines.

In the Philippines, the prevalence of children who did not receive any vaccinations was highest among children whose mothers did not receive any education. This situation worsens the existing inequalities. 

The UN agency suggested that governments should locate and provide vaccinations to all children, particularly those who missed them due to the pandemic. They should also focus on building trust in vaccines, prioritize funding for immunization and primary healthcare, and improve the resilience of healthcare systems.

It also recommended unlocking available resources, such as leftover COVID-19 funds, to implement catch-up vaccination campaigns.   

“Immunizations have saved millions of lives and protected communities from deadly disease outbreaks We know all too well that diseases do not respect borders,” Ms. Russell said. “Routine immunizations and strong health systems are our best shot at preventing future pandemics, unnecessary deaths, and suffering.” — Patricia B. Mirasol

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