MANILA — The Department of Health said Monday it will continue the next phase of its polio immunization campaign, which was put on hold because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
There will be new polio immunization campaigns for children under 5 years old in Region 3 on July 20 and in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal in Region 4A in August.
The next phase of the Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign in Mindanao will also begin on 20 July and last until 2 August for children under 5 years old, DOH said.
With many hospitals dealing with COVID-19 cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Filipinos “cannot afford to overwhelm our health system with another outbreak.”
“Continuous implementation of polio response amid the present health crisis we are facing is important as this will prevent not only the debilitating effects of the disease, but also interrupt the transmission during a pandemic,” Duque said in a statement.
He also assured the public that infection prevention and control protocols will be implemented during the polio campaign.
"Children under 10 years old in selected areas in Mindanao will also receive polio drops,” the DOH added in a statement.
According to the DOH, polio, which can cause nerve injury leading to paralysis or even death, mainly affects young children, who have not completed their vaccination schedules. It is transmitted from person-to-person and results from poor sanitation and hygiene practices, and through contaminated food or water.
The immunization campaign is being supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Duque emphasized that polio is a vaccine-preventable disease and “we cannot let our gains over the years go to waste by deprioritizing our polio response.”
Polio was declared eradicated in the Philippines in 2000 but it reappeared in 2019 following lowered vaccine confidence due to the the Dengvaxia controversy in 2017.
A polio outbreak was announced last September 19, 2019 with the case of a 3-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur. Now, there are 15 more children confirmed with polio, aged 9 years old and below. The children are from Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Region 12 (Soccsksargen), Region 3, and Region 4A.
The World Health Organization said health workers and children alike must be protected during the polio immunization campaign,
"We must also remember to ensure that our dedicated frontline health workers and our communities are fully protected from COVID-19 during the polio campaign," said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative in the Philippines.
The immunization campaign started in July 2019 after polioviruses were detected in waterways in the National Capital Region. Around 4.5 million children already benefited from the first immunization round in Mindanao and NCR during the first quarter of 2020. This is more than 95% of the target.
“Unlike COVID-19, we already have a vaccine against polio that it is safe, effective and free at health centers. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of vaccines to prevent diseases. Like wearing masks and physical distancing, each effort we make to vaccinate one child has the potential to protect all children from polio,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative.
Among the supplies provided by the UNICEF are vaccines, freezers, ice packs, and vaccine carriers. The WHO has been providing technical advice for polio surveillance and monitoring.
WHO and UNICEF are among the partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments. Other GPEI partners are the Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.