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According to the World Health Organization, more than a million children under five years of age die every single year due to infectious illnesses that could be prevented by routine childhood vaccinations. In the last decade or so vaccination rates have improved enormously in the Philippines, but there is still work to be done, as evidenced by the major outbreak of measles that occurred in 2014.

Why is Vaccination Necessary?

Vaccination saves lives. Diseases like polio, tetanus, and diphtheria cause infections serious enough to kill, and even diseases like measles can be lethal. The 2014 outbreak of measles in the Philippines infected tens of thousands of people and caused 110 deaths, according to the World Health OrganizationIn children, measles is the third leading cause of death from immunizable disease.

Vaccination isn’t just about eradicating a disease—often, complete eradication is just not possible—it’s also about disease control, which means reducing levels of infection in a population. Vaccination has many benefits, both in the short term and the long term. The obvious one is that outbreaks of disease are reduced, but there are many other benefits that go along with this: fewer infections mean fewer serious complications and lower rates of disability and death resulting from preventable diseases, and a reduced need for expensive medical treatments and hospitalizations. When 92% to 95% or more of a population are vaccinated against a particular disease, those who can’t be vaccinated—for example, people whose immune systems are compromised—are protected too, thanks to herd immunity. Healthy children who are not frequently ill are more likely to go to school regularly and receive a good education, and healthy adults are less likely to take sick days that result in lost productivity at work. Spread across an entire population or a whole country, the cumulative public health and economic benefits are significant.

In the Phillipines, the standard infant vaccination protocol includes immunizations for tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, and rubella, all given before the infant reaches 16 months of age. Older children and teens are vaccinated against additional infectious agents, including hepatitis A, and human papilloma virus. In addition, children and teens with high-risk medical conditions such as chronic heart or lung disease are also immunized with pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines.

The Vaccine Problem

The Philippines’ Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) was developed in the 1970s and established in 1976 as a way of making sure that infants, children, and their mothers would have access to vaccination for preventable infectious diseases. As a result of this public health program vaccination rates climbed steadily, and rates of infection, complications, and deaths, resulting from preventable diseases like polio and measles dropped.

In recent years, however, the incidence of certain preventable diseases have seen a sharp spike in frequency, and others may be at risk of returning.

For example, the Philippines has been polio-free since October 2000, but there is a risk that the disease may at some point experience a resurgence, due to declining rates of vaccination. To achieve herd immunity requires a 95% vaccination rate for the full three-dose immunization schedule for polio vaccine. In recent years, however, coverage for that crucial dose has declined to 83%.

Of more immediate concern are the outbreaks of measles that have lead to tens of thousands of cases of illness, and a significant number of deaths. The most recent of these occurred in 2014, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases, and over one hundred deaths. Recent outbreaks in other countries—in particular the USA—are thought to be related to the Philippines outbreak, and declining rates of vaccination in the USA mean that even more people are at risk.

The Simple Solution

Solving the problem is simple: vaccination. It’s the only way to protect children and the entire population, from serious complications and the risk of death due to preventable illnesses. Vaccination is safe and effective, and essential.

References

Eric Toner (2014). “Resurgence of Vaccine-Preventable Childhood Diseases.” UPMC Center for Health Security. Accessed February 20, 2015.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Immunization and Infectious Diseases.” Accessed February 20, 2015.
Phillipine Foundation for Vaccination. “Childhood Vaccination Schedule 2015.” Accessed February 20, 2015.
Republic of the Phillipines Department of Health. “Expanded Program on Immunization.” Accessed February 20, 2015.
World Health Organization. “Measles-Rubella Bulletin.” Accessed February 20, 2015.
 
Contributed by: Julie Bowen, writer and editor with a specialism in health and wellness articles