Published by the Visayan Daily Star
Editor-in-Chief & President
Bureau Chief, Dumaguete
MAJA P. DELY
|CARLOS ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA
Vaccines save two to three million children all over the world every year, a World Health Organization expert underscored as health officials report that parents are now avoiding immunization for their children due to the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy.
Jun Ryan Obina, a science and public health communication specialist, stressed the pivotal role of vaccination in public health. He said that for a program like immunization to succeed, it is important to gain public trust, which is “not easily created” and as the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy illustrates, such trust is very easily destroyed. Obina made a presentation during the “SalinSiyensya” forum of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine held last week for the media in Quezon City.
RITM director Socorro Lupisan echoed the need to “correct misconceptions in the news” about vaccination because the immunization programs of the Department of Health are now suffering. “We have a lot of outbreaks in the country because immunization coverage has decreased… so we really need to regain the trust of mothers in public health and immunization,” she said.
Obina urged the media to keep in mind that “vaccines are safe and they work” when they write about immunization. He said if the misconceptions and misinterpretations on vaccination will continue the achievements in public health like the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus that was achieved by the Philippines late last year, might be compromised.
The fear-mongering and panic-inducing coverage of the Dengvaxia controversy led by overly dramatic government officials and amplified by media has negatively affected the immunization programs of the DOH, leading to measles outbreaks in cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The growing sentiment against vaccines also threatens to undo public health accomplishments such as the Philippines last year becoming the 44 th country in the world to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.
The manner in which the Dengvaxia controversy was handled has inflicted significant damage on the government’s immunization program. It is still reparable but rebuilding the trust in vaccines and the Herculean task of saving lives by employing calibrated and minimal risks for the common good has suddenly become a serious challenge for the DOH. Hopefully government can give DOH and public health officials the support they need to regain the trust of Filipino parents that will be necessary if they are to avoid preventable infections and unnecessary deaths among our children.*