A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that the perception of the importance of childhood vaccines declined by a quarter in the Philippines and by more than a third in the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Japan, after the start of the pandemic.
The report added that 67 million children missed out on vaccinations between 2019 and 2021, with vaccination coverage levels decreasing in 112 countries. Of those who missed out on routine vaccinations, 48 million were zero-dose children, or those who did not receive a single routine vaccine.
The Philippines has one million zero-dose kids, the second highest in East Asia and the Pacific region, and the fifth highest globally. There are around two million children born in the Philippines annually that are eligible for immunization.
For Dr. Carla Orozco, immunization specialist of UNICEF Philippines, this is “alarming” as the large number of unvaccinated children makes them susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause deaths and disability.
The UNICEF report noted that the Dengvaxia controversy in 2017 – prompted by unproven claims that the anti-dengue vaccine caused deaths of children inoculated with it – led to a “precipitous fall in confidence that vaccines are important.”
The sharp decrease in childhood immunization coverage in the Philippines exposed children to vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles and polio.
Making matter worse was the pandemic, where the health crisis interrupted childhood vaccination due to intense demands on health systems, the diversion of immunization resources to COVID-19 vaccination, shortage of health workers, and stay-at-home measures.
Before the situation takes a turn for the worse, UNICEF is calling on governments to urgently implement and accelerate catch-up vaccination efforts to protect children and prevent disease outbreaks. In the Philippines, government has to find ways to reverse the perceptions that are resulting in more missed vaccinations, especially among Filipino children. Because if it doesn’t, and the trend continues, we may have to deal with deadly outbreaks that should’ve been preventable in the first place.*