Editorial: Opening 'doors' for immunity

·3 min read

BEFORE a child can be vaccinated, a parent must first be convinced.

The Department of Health (DOH) will conduct the “Chikiting Ligtas” Measles, Rubella, Oral Polio Vaccine Supplemental Immunization Activity (SIA) from Feb. 1 to 28.

The second phase of the supplemental immunization is aimed at addressing the declining immunization rate among children in the Central Visayas, said DOH officials.

Kate F. Denolang reported in “SunStar Cebu” on Jan. 30 that the pandemic and residual fears from the Dengvaxia controversy kept parents from bringing their children for immunization.

The SIA will be conducted at all barangay health centers and rural health units (RHUs) for easier access to parents.

At this point, though, providing access is next in priority to regaining the public’s trust and confidence in immunization.

A miasma from ignorance, long-held biases, confusion over conflicting accounts, unverified news claims, and anxieties created by conspiracy theories are not just predisposing parents against immunization for their children but extending also to affect many citizens’ openness to vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

What is the guarantee that the second phase of the supplemental immunization will push parents to bring their children to health centers and RHUs simply because the vaccines are available?

The pandemic has not showed a plateauing of cases, with even new strains reported as presenting new threats and creating more alarm.

Government credibility has suffered with a populace made disenchanted and restive with the economic and social dislocations brought by not just the pandemic but by official responses to control community transmission of the Covid-19.

Before the pandemic, the parents and guardians trooping to barangay health centers and RHUs for regular schedules of health services implied deep reserves of belief and confidence in availing of free or subsidized medicine and health services.

Given that the first phase of the immunization program has failed to achieve the targeted 95-percent rate, should not the government go to the communities instead of waiting for the communities to approach health facilities?

Improving public support for the national immunization goals requires health workers to immerse in the communities and engage in dialogue with parents, guardians, barangay leaders, religious leaders, and other informal and formal opinion leaders at the grassroots level.

A “door-to-door” immunization drive is a requisite and best practice for a mass vaccination program, noted Carl Abelardo T. Antonio and Teresita G. Hilario in a paper published in the Vol. 47 No. 2 2013 issue of the “Acta Medicina Philippina.”

“Door-to-door” campaigning did not just involve various government agencies, community-based organizations, non-government organizations, and the academe in seeking out parents and children in a 20-day campaign immunization that covered not just “houses, condominiums, apartments, tenements, orphanages, and half-way homes” in Pasay City but also included “non-conventional doors in the community,” reported Antonio and Hilario.

To ensure all eligible children were immunized during the Pasay City SIA from November 2010 to May 2011, stakeholders approached informal settlements living “under bridges; inside parks, cemeteries and open spaces; in tents, carts, abandoned buildings, old vehicles/trans/motorboats; under trees; in islands in the middle of streets, etc.”

It is also worth noting that health stakeholders must be equipped with “an arsenal of adequate and accurate information” to present and convince parents who initially refuse to have their children vaccinated or doubt the efficacy and safety of immunization.

Antonio and Hilario stress that strategies for information, education, and communication must adapt to this audience, different from the “willing” and “usually captive” audience that shows up at health facilities.