LMP calls on municipalities to prioritize routine immunization

(L-R) Actress-broadcast journalist Dianne Medina serves as the moderator-host of the intimate media roundtable discussion together with speakers Dr. Ana Ong-Lim, Department of Pediatrics Professor and Chief of the Section of Infectious and Tropical Disease, UP-PGH and LMP Secretary General and Barcelona, Sorsogon Mayor Atty. Cynthia Falcotelo-Fortes.

The League of Municipalities of the Philippines headed by National President Mayor JB Bernos, of La Paz, Abra, calls on its member municipalities to prioritize routine and catch-up immunization this 2023 amidst efforts to recover from the impact of COVID-19 in the past years.

In a roundtable discussion held on April 28 in celebration of World Immunization Week 2023, LMP Secretary General and Barcelona, Sorsogon Mayor Atty. Cynthia Falcotelo-Fortes said that the success of vaccination programs relies heavily on their implementation by local government units, the workhorses of national government agencies.

“Kailangan po talaga ang contextualization in every LGU. Wala nang one-size-fits all programs dahil iba iba po ang konteksto ng bawat munisipyo or locality, so let’s localize programs,” she emphasized.

Mayor Atty. Falcotelo-Fortes further said: “In the case of vaccination, yes, DOH crafted and funded programs cascaded to MLGUs: from the supply of the vaccines to disease awareness support under its Healthy Pilipinas campaign, but these are not the only programs out there that MLGUs actualize. MLGUs have a big pie of programs, projects, and activities on health and a myriad of local services. Vaccination is but a slice of that pie. Prioritization is key. Routine immunization should rank high in the order of priorities.

She added that, for their part, MLGUs shall continue to advocate the wisdom and importance of routine and catch-up immunization.

MLGUs, including Barcelona, for instance, bring immunization closer to the people. “We don’t oblige them to come to the RHU. We strategize, do clustering of barangays, and scheduling of immunization for wider reach, Mayor Atty. Falcotelo-Fortes stressed.

Double-down on Catch-up and Routine Vaccination

The Department of Pediatrics Professor and Chief of the Section of Infectious and Tropical Disease of the UP-PGH Dr. Ana Ong-Lim also expressed that there is an urgent need to double-time on increasing childhood vaccination in the country.

“Karamihan ng nag-a-access ng ating public health services ay talagang hindi nakasunod sa schedule. Ang nangyari noong pandemya is that our immunization coverage decreased significantly,” she said.

“Most of our immunization coverage is roughly about 50 percent. Ano ba ang target natin? 90%, conservative pa yon. So kailangan ng catch-up [immunization],” Dr. Ong-Lim also pointed out.
Following the impact of COVID-19, routine immunization went down to an all-time low of 48.5% in 202, which recovered in 2022 to 62.9%. With progressing COVID-19 vaccination and easing restrictions, there is an opportunity to bounce back and ramp-up routine and catch-up immunization.

The infectious disease expert further warned that if vaccination rates continue to be low, children are at constant risk of contracting infectious diseases like measles, influenza, polio and pneumonia that are just as threatening, if not more so, than COVID-19.

“Kapag mas marami pa rin ang hindi protektado sila ay magiging source ng transmission,” she added.

In the meantime, the LMP acknowledged that there are barriers on the ground that make it challenging for municipalities to improve vaccination rate, as low immunization rates continue to persist in some areas of the country.

“To be honest, one is parents’ behavior. There are younger parents who think that [immunization] vaccines are not safe. Siguro ang gamot doon is to disabuse their mind. Proper messaging to the public that vaccines are safe. So, sa part po ng MLGUs, we do continuing advocacy,” Mayor Atty. Falcotelo-Fortes added.

Prioritize Childhood Vaccination in 2023

Recognizing the crucial role of MLGUs in the National Immunization Program (NIP), LMP is committed to rally its membership to prioritize the timely routine and catch-up vaccination of children.

MLGUs know it too well that DOH and MLGUs ought to work together. Complementation. MLGUs, in terms of resources, make do with whatever is there. In here, “We really bring to life yung accountability. We don’t point fingers on anyone, but kapag binaba po ang programa na yan, we are accountable and, the success rate, MLGUs will define it. Kailangan lang talaga itaas ang level of governance,” Mayor Atty. Falcotelo-Fortes said.

The LMP’s call comes amid the celebration of World Immunization Week 2023, which is observed every last week of April, to highlight the collective action needed to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Under the theme of “The Big Catch-Up,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said it is working with partners to accelerate rapid progress in countries to get back on track and ensure more people, particularly children, are protected from preventable diseases.

The media roundtable discussion was organized by GSK Philippines under the Vax my Baby campaign – a disease and vaccine awareness campaign intended to support routine immunization of children.