Vaccine drive against polio on track–DOH

IN the first quarter of 2020, the Department of Health has immunized over 95 percent of the target children to fully stop the spread of polio, the Department of Health (DOH) said over the weekend.

This complies with what was set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for every round of immunization to successfully stop the outbreak.

Launched in 2019 when the presence of the reemergent poliovirus was first detected in the waterways of the National Capital Region, the next rounds of the polio vaccination drive were briefly put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the immunization efforts continued across Mindanao, Central Luzon, and Southern Tagalog regions since last July 20, 2020.

A highly infectious but preventable disease, polio is transmitted through the fecal-oral route or through ingesting water or food contaminated with the poliovirus, usually in areas with poor sanitation and poor personal hygiene.

In response to the polio outbreak, the DOH has been working closely with local government units (LGUs), civil society organizations, development partners and other key stakeholders, including community members.

“That is our key to victory—all stakeholders should help [in] what we call ‘whole-of-society’ approach,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Due to the restrictions caused by Covid-19, special preparations like online orientations on polio vaccination and infection prevention and control guidelines and meticulous planning with field teams are being held to ensure a safe and quality immunization campaign, Vergeire said.

Since resuming the Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio (SPKP) campaign, about 3,408,241 children were vaccinated in Mindanao, according to the DOH.

Due to Covid-19 limitations, only 1,093,317 out of the 1,347,005 target or about 81.16 percent were vaccinated in Central Luzon. Meanwhile, in the Calabarzon, Laguna province excluding Calamba City and Pakil town tallied 81.71 percent in phase 1 (250,577 children out of the 306,670 target).

Round 2 of the SPKP will run from September 14 to September 27, targeting about 1,185,005 children in the three provinces (Laguna, Cavite, Rizal) in Calabarzon.

DOH National Immunization Program Manager Maria Wilda T. Silva said that they are also conducting trainings for vaccination against polio.

“To be able to respond to the delay in barangay immunizations caused by the challenges of the pandemic and the demand for health-care workers, we are training volunteers to do vaccinations against polio in close coordination with local community leaders in order to synchronize efforts for both polio and Covid,” Silva said.

Aside from vaccination, the physician said surveillance is a key factor in keeping polio at bay.

“The implementation of the SPKP campaign includes the immunization of children below five years old and strengthening of the acute flaccid paralysis [AFP] surveillance,” Silva added.

The DOH said this close partnership with LGUs has allowed for a strong surveillance-driven and proactive case-finding approach that includes health information dissemination, capacity building, and filling in the resource gaps for communities most in need. They added that such “best-case practice” has acted as the blueprint for the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) protocol currently in place for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vergeire said that with CODE, they are working with their partner LGUs and the people in the communities.

“If we were able to prevent polio and protect our children, we can also protect our families from Covid-19. We just need to do our part by following the minimum health standards, immediately isolating ourselves when we have symptoms and not wait for confirmation that we are Covid-19-positive, and cooperating with [members of the] barangay health emergency response teams who go house to house,” Vergeire concluded.


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