Editorial: Inoculating children safely

·3 min read

PAIN is the requisite of some forms of love.

Parents of Cebu City mountain barangays led their lowland counterparts in bringing their children to health workers administering shots of the measles-rubella (MR) vaccine.

As reported by Wenilyn B. Sabalo in SunStar Cebu on Feb. 13, the barangays hitting the highest percentage of vaccinations in the targeted population are in the uplands of Cebu City.

The Department of Health (DOH) continues to implement the second phase of the MR Oral Polio Vaccine Supplementary Immunization Activity (MR OPV SIA) until the end of February.

Other parents and guardians are urged to bring their children to health centers to be vaccinated.

Those eligible in the MR OPV SIA are children who have never been immunized or have received only one of the required two doses, making them only partially protected against measles-rubella and poliomyelitis diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that measles, which is highly contagious and causes death in children globally, can be entirely prevented through vaccination.

The vaccine to fight this viral disease is “safe and effective” and has been in use since the 1960s, declares the WHO in its official website, who.int. To implement the Global Vaccine Action Plan, the WHO is the lead technical agency leading the campaign to eliminate measles and rubella in five WHO regions by 2020.

What prevents stakeholders from wiping out these viral diseases and saving children from preventable tragedies?

Parental fears that vaccines threaten their children present a serious obstacle in immunization campaigns.

As of Feb. 10, the 10th day of the MR OPV SIA, only 20.38 percent of Cebu City children have received the MR vaccine. Cebu City has the fourth highest targeted number of children; 70,000 of its 87,921 eligible children still have to be immunized.

That the top performing Cebu City barangays in the MR vaccination are mountain villages may be due to the greater vulnerability of urban-based parents to anxieties raised by misinformation and false claims that the Dengvaxia vaccine, which is intended to prevent dengue, caused the death of some children during the 2016-2018 school-based administration.

Controversy over the Dengvaxia vaccine and false claims of Dengvaxia-caused deaths was amplified by the trimedia and the social media, whose reach and influence have not been successfully countered by government-led information, education and communication (IEC) campaigns, particularly in urban centers.

The DOH campaign must be more aggressive, considering the proliferation of videos, testimonials, and articles fusing pseudoscience, religion, and political conspiracies attacking the benefits and falsely claiming the dangers posed by vaccines to one’s health, children, and even faith.

Countering many citizens’ trauma or suspicion against vaccines in general or those specific to preventing coronavirus disease or viral diseases targeting children should involve multiple stakeholders, such as local governments (LGUs), health specialists, educators, communal opinion leaders, journalists, bloggers and religious leaders.

Town and barangay officials can counterpart with essential resources, particularly transportation and local guides, to reach families in remote areas that become difficult to access under poor weather conditions.

Trimedia and social media have to be mobilized to engage citizens in clarifying their fears and insecurities about vaccination.

For the MR OPV SIA, it is crucial to have credible testimonials endorsing immunization.

Celebrities are credible endorsers and advocates for immunization, tapping radio, television, and social media. Specialists are needed to simplify medical jargon, which can induce confusion and heighten anxieties, to emphasize the key messages on MR and OPV immunization: safety, effectiveness and affordability or no expense for parents already challenged by the recession.