'Polio vaccine is very safe,' DOH reminds public amid epidemic

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday, September 20, reiterated the efficacy of the polio vaccine as it renewed its call for children to be vaccinated against the disease which has reemerged in the country after 19 years.  

“The polio vaccine is very safe. We have nothing to worry about because the polio vaccine has been used for a long time, and it has gone through tests that prove its safety, efficacy, and affordability,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press conference on Friday.

Duque admitted that the DOH continued to reel from vaccine hesitancy caused by the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia controversy in late 2017. (READ: A year after Dengvaxia: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar)

"Please, I beg of you, for the sake of our children, take care of them. Make sure they have proper hygiene and they get vaccinated,” Duque said. 

Duque said that following the Dengvaxia scare, "vaccine confidence dropped and vaccine hesitancy rose to a record all-time high."  Citing a 2018 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he said vaccine confidence in the Philippines plunged to 32% in 2018 from a high of 93% in 2015. 

The average national polio vaccination coverage stands at about 66% to 68%. The target for herd immunity is 95%. Duque said there are about 5.5 million children to vaccinate. 

The DOH declared a polio epidemic or outbreak on Thursday, September 19, after it found one confirmed case of the disease in Lanao del Sur. The 3-year-old girl afflicted with polio now has residual paralysis due.

Environmental samples that tested positive for the vaccine-derived poliovirus were also found in Manila and Davao. (EXPLAINER: What is polio?)

The DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) have since emphasized that vaccination is the only cure for the disease. 

In August, the DOH kicked off its polio vaccination campaign against polio in Manila. Duque said the positive sample was found in Tondo, the largest district in Manila in terms of area and population. 

The polio vaccination campaign will be focused on the National Capital Region, Davao and Lanao del Sur in October, while the campaign in Central Luzon and Calabarzon would also begin in October.  

DOH also launched the “End Polio Now” campaign on Friday, upon the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Rotary Philippines. 

The organization, whose international counterpart has been conducting anti-polio initiatives for 30 years, said it would provide volunteers in local communities to amplify the grassroots response to polio. Ten Rotary districts throughout the country vowed to join the initiative.  

Duque also said that the health department had enough supply for the first two rounds of polio immunization. He said that they were only waiting for confirmation that there would be enough supply for the nationwide rollout of the vaccination campaign, which is set to start early next year. 

The DOH also urged local governments to intensify their Zero Open Defecation program and called for proper sanitation practices, like regularly washing one's hands. Rappler.com