Protection begins with a simple shot

Medical experts emphasize importance of vaccination in safeguarding one’s health

An effective way to protect people from illness is by protecting them from the very start– before the disease is even acquired. For more than 200 years, vaccines have been successful in preventing peoplefrom acquiring certain diseases. However, there has been much public hesitancy towards vaccines at present and many communities in hard-to-reach areas lack access to this modern healthcare intervention.

Cognizant of the important role that vaccines play in keeping people safe from certain diseases, University of the Philippines – College of Medicine Mu Sigma Phi Sorority, the first recognized medical sorority in Asia, recently held a forum on “Vaccine Confidence in the Philippines” held at the Museum of a History of Ideas, Philippine General Hospital. 

This forum is in line with the organization’s flagship project ImMUnity: An Ounce of Prevention. ImMUnity is an advocacy program that aims to safeguard Filipinos from infectious diseases through vaccination. The event aptly coincided with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Immunization Week.

Protection begins with a simple shot
DOH Undersecretary Dr. Eric Domingo (5thfrom left) and Dr. Lulu Bravo (6thfrom left), Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, after delivering their speech at the just-concluded forum entitled, “Vaccine Confidence in the Philippines, a Public Health Crisis.” Joining them are the event’s hosts as well as the members UP Manila’s Mu Sigma Phi Sorority, namely: Dr. Lilibeth Genuino, Meleeze Ongtauco, Mary Elise Severino, Maxene Carmela Sta. Maria and Aljina Carampel

In his keynote speech, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Eric Domingo discussed the prevailing issue of the measles outbreak and the government’s response to the problem. “As of April 2019, we’ve already had 29,000 cases of measles in the country and 401 deaths,” said Dr. Domingo. 

He cited that one of the reasons why human life expectancy increased throughout the centuries is because of clean water and vaccinations. Dr. Domingo added that vaccinations are instrumental in helping children survive the first five years of life and grow up into healthy adults. However, UNICEF has recently reported that an estimated number of 2.9 million Filipino children are still unvaccinated.

“If we stop vaccination, then unvaccinated children become susceptible to disease. We have more out-of-pocket expenses, because we have to pay for so many treatments. Getting vaccinated is much cheaper compared to treating a patient with meningitis. Vaccines are also available for free at our health centers,” explained Dr. Domingo. 

“Of all the measles cases we have now, majority are unvaccinated. It only takes one case of measles and it will ignite the disease in a whole bunch of unprotected children,” he added.

How vaccines work

Vaccines help the body develop immunity by mimicking an infection, but this imitation infection will not produce that same disease. The imitation infection from the vaccine will trigger the body to produce the necessary antibodies. Vaccines leave a “memory” in the immune system to help it remember how to protect the body against a particular disease.

During the forum, UP College of Medicine Professor Emeritus and Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Dr. Lulu Bravoemphasized the benefits of vaccines. “Vaccines give you an advanced protection against a disease that is quite fatal or that can actually cause severe disabilities, and severe complications,” said Dr. Bravo. 

“The development of vaccines has been so much more substantiated with safety procedures and clinical entities, which will ensure that when you put out a vaccine commercially into the market, it will really be safe and effective,meaning it can really protect the individual,” she added. 

The polio vaccine, for example, is proven to be 95 percent effective. Through use of the polio vaccine, the Philippines was declared polio-free in 2000.

“You need a high coverage [of the population], so even those who are not vaccinated will not get the disease. There will be no transmission if your coverage is very high,” said Dr. Bravo. 

A main factor as to why many Filipinos are hesitant towards vaccines is due to lack of knowledge and understanding. In response to the global initiative to bring vaccination at the forefront of health services, organizations such as the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination have been providing vaccinology courses, lectures, and workshops on how to increase vaccine coverage amongst different sectors of society. 

The Mu Sigma Phi Sorority also offers free vaccination services as well as public health lectures for the students of UP Manila and other communities. To further educate Filipinos about vaccines, Mu Sigma Phi launched the ImMUnity Mobile Application, which serves as a vaccine tracker, and is currently available for download on Google Play Store. The application can take the user’s profile and medical history. With this information, it can then recommend the right vaccines for the user. The app also has a list of vaccines with their corresponding descriptions. However, app users must take note of the disclaimer that taking vaccinations must always be consulted with the doctor first. Any piece of information that users provide the app will remain confidential