The COVID-19 pandemic not only caused fear and anxiety, but also caused several overdue hospital visits that ordinarily required physical contact. With hospitals currently admitting COVID-19 positive patients as well as persons under observation, apprehensions toward visiting healthcare centers remain a reality. Now, apart from getting regular check-ups, some have also been missing their routine vaccinations for fear of contracting the virus. While this is understandable, there can be detrimental effects if an individual does not get their immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
At uncertain times like this and in the midst of everyone’s panic, one thing is for sure – having access to immunization is still one of the most important things to keep in mind as this decreases the risk of outbreaks of other VPDs.
Immunization during the COVID-19 pandemic
From children, middle-aged, and the elderly, every individual needs to be protected from diseases through immunization. Thus, there should be proper guidelines on how vaccines can be safely administered in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people who have symptoms of COVID-19 should delay their routine vaccination to avoid the spread of the virus to healthcare workers and other patients that will be in the facility1. However, this works differently for an asymptomatic patient, so practicing social distancing, adherence to hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette are still very important when going to a health facility or fixed immunization site for a vaccination schedule1. Aside from this, the CDC also recommends the following guidelines to be implemented in medical facilities1:
- Screening for COVID-19 symptoms once a person arrives in the facility and isolating patients when they show symptoms
- Limited points of entry to the health facility and putting barriers where it is needed
- Ensure physical distancing
- Use of face mask and face shield at all times
General practices for the safe delivery of vaccination services
In the Philippines, there has been a sharp decline in childhood immunization coverage, from 87 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 20192. After this decline, an outbreak of measles and polio cases were reported in the country in 2019.2 This emphasized the importance of following a vaccination schedule.
Vaccinations in the government’s National Immunization Program (NIP) include vaccines that protect against pneumonia, influenza, measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, and human papillomavirus (HPV), among others.
In order to protect one’s self against COVID-19 when receiving immunization, the CDC released the following guidelines1:
- To reduce further healthcare visits, all vaccines due for both children and adults need to be administered during the scheduled vaccination
- Immunization status should be evaluated in every visit to be able to provide feedback on all vaccinations due or overdue
- Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B infection should still follow the completion of their vaccines to avoid mother-to-child transmission
- Infants who tested positive for COVID-19 infection should delay their vaccination
- Pregnant women with overdue vaccinations for recommended maternal vaccines (tetanus toxoid, diphtheria toxoid, acellular pertussis and influenza) should go for a follow-up vaccination
- For the influenza season, it’s very critical to follow the immunization schedule to avoid further respiratory illnesses, thus giving more protection to the vulnerable 3
As we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is highly important to remain vigilant when it comes to healthcare center visits. To be able to have a more resilient immune systems and to protect oneself and one’s family, we should follow the vaccination schedules and also take note of the guidelines set by the government and healthcare providers. By doing this, the community can all work together to restore vaccine confidence while battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘How immunization will keep us safe in this time of COVID’
To emphasize the critical role of immunization in preventing vaccine-preventable diseases, the University of the Philippines College of Medicine (UPCM)’s Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, the first recognized medical sorority in Asia, has organized a webinar series titled “Immunization in the Time of Pandemia.” This is under the COVIDgilance series which was launched through the ImMUnity program—one of Mu Sigma Phi Sorority’s flagship service projects which aims to educate the public about the importance of immunization from vaccine-preventable diseases—as it continues to crusade for its advocacy of promoting individual and community health.
The kick-off of the webinar series, titled “Balik Tiwala, Balik Bakuna” – Debunking Vaccination Myths Around the COVID-19 Pandemic, was held on July 28 and featured Dr. Regina P. Berba, Head of Hospital Infection Control Unit and Infectious Disease Specialist in Philippine General Hospital. The second installment was done last August 11, titled “Vaccination Timeline in the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic” by Dr. Carmen B. Nievera, Board Member of Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, member of Infection Prevention and Control, and committee of Asian Hospital and Medical Center.
In celebration of its foundation month, Mu Sigma Phi Sorority is culminating the series on August 25 with “How Immunization Will Keep Us Safe In This Time of COVID-19!,” a webinar moderated by Dr. Virginia S. Abalos and featuring Dr. Lulu C. Bravo, Professor Emeritus at the UP College of Medicine and Executive Director of Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), and Dr. Wilda T. Silva, National Immunization Program Manager of the Department of Health (DOH) as speakers.
“Immunization in the Time of Pandemia” was organized by UPCM – Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority in partnership with the City of Manila, UP College of Medicine, UP – Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, the Mu Sigma Phi Foundation, and health care company MSD in the Philippines. Keeping its commitment to promote vaccine confidence and to continuously work with partners, MSD actively engages in multi-stakeholder collaborations, such as the advocacy partnership with UPCM – Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, to address the challenges on vaccine hesitancy and emphasize the importance of a life-course vaccination to advocate for public health. MSD supports campaigns that aim to restore vaccine confidence by communicating the value of immunization in saving lives and preventing vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks. The webinar series will be open to the public and accessible via the UPCM – Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority’s digital platforms namely ImMUnity: An Ounce of Prevention Facebook page (facebook.com/mspsimmunity) and ImMUnity YouTube channel (tinyurl.com/mspsimmunitywebinar).