Senator Pia S. Cayetano is strongly urging health officials to step up their efforts in convincing Filipino mothers to have their kids vaccinated, following the health department’s declaration of a polio epidemic in the country.
The principal author and sponsor of the Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (RA 10152), Cayetano expressed alarm that the Philippines has lost its polio-free status.
The senator made the call after the Department of Health (DOH) reported that a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur was recently diagnosed with polio, marking the return of the dreaded illness to the country after two decades.
Exactly a month ago (August 19), Cayetano delivered a privilege speech in the Senate to call attention to the risks brought about by the country’s deteriorating vaccination rates, particularly for the poliovirus.
In her speech, she said if mothers continue to refuse having their children immunized, the spread of the virus could just be “a snap of a finger away.”
“Since the year 2000, we have already been declared polio-free. My children grew up at a time where there was no more polio. After 19 years, it’s so sad that this (disease) may actually come back,” she stressed.
“All these diseases have already been eradicated or are close to being eradicated because we’ve had a successful vaccination program throughout the decades. But now, mothers are suddenly not bringing their children to the health centers to be vaccinated,” she added.
As early as the 2019 campaign period, the senator has been going around the country reminding health workers on the ground to educate mothers about the importance of vaccination.
“Because of the (dengue vaccine) scare, ang conclusion ng mga nanay ay masama na ang lahat ng bakuna. But time and again, we kept on repeating that this is not true,” she said.
Cayetano called upon the DOH and local government officials to conduct more enticing information drives to keep promoting the government’s immunization program.
“As public servants, we are tasked to ensure that the welfare and health of our children are properly protected. So if we need to shake things up a bit, I think we really should,” she said, reiterating her call a month ago.
“We deprive the life of these children – a life that could be spent climbing trees, playing sports, or enjoying other physical activities – if we let their mothers disregard the importance of vaccination,” she added.#
I just decided on my way here to deliver this privilege speech as I was reading the news. It caught my attention that the Department of Health (DOH) has issued a warning to all of us that we are in danger of losing our polio-free status.
So since the year 2000, we have already been declared as polio-free, which was something that really delighted me because I actually grew up with a classmate who has polio.
She was the only one in our school who could not join us for physical activities on a regular basis. So kung kami, mga nagtatakbuhan, mga naglalaro, she could not join us.
So I asked my staff to just quickly pull out some pictures. Let’s start with the image of what life should be like for a normal child. [Photos of kids playing flashed on screen]
They should be able to run, to tumble, to play games, to stand up, to fall, to climb trees – all of which I was able to do.
And yet, during the time of my father, and like I said, inabot ko pa, we still had polio during that time. I would imagine some of our colleagues would remember this. But so happily, my children grew up in a time that there was no more polio. And I’m so happy and I’m so proud of that.
Then some time, early this year, late last year, when we received the news that there was an outbreak of measles, what came to my mind was not just measles. What came to my mind was all the ailments that have been eradicated or are close to being eradicated because we have had a very successful vaccination program throughout the decades in our country.
So I was so scared that during the campaign, I actually would really emphasize this among health workers, the importance of convincing mothers of the importance of vaccination.
And I was saddened to find out that my biggest fear was true. It wasn’t just measles. Mothers were not bringing their children to the health centers to be vaccinated for all the vaccines, not just measles. Nauna lang yung outbreak ng measles.
But because of the Dengvaxia scare, ang conclusion ng mga Nanay, masama na lahat ng bakuna, which time and again, we kept on repeating, that that is not true.
Now, what made the mothers change their mind? It was not any campaign, as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t a campaign of DOH, it wasn’t my campaign. It wasn’t anybody’s campaign. It was the reality that children started dying from measles. And that’s when napaisip yung mga mothers na, “Eh ano ba talaga, matatakot ba ako sa bakuna dahil sa narinig ko sa Dengvaxia o matatakot ako na hindi ko napabakunahan ang anak ko dahil ito na, nagkandamatay na yung ibang bata sa measles?”
And that’s when on their own, they started going to the health centers to have their children vaccinated for measles and hopefully the rest. So this time, when I would talk to mothers, they would be nodding their heads and they said that they would be vaccinating their children.
So now, I am saddened to get the confirmation that this deterioration in our vaccination rate is also seen in polio. And after 19 years, it’s so sad that this may actually come back.
Just for the record, DOH has identified priority regions, they have put together a campaign. But I really want to call upon DOH to really have visually enticing pictures. In fact, for lack of a better example, creativity and advertising [are] not my… forte. But similar to the pictures that you see in cigarettes, which is a product of our work with former Senate President Drilon and the current Senate President. Both of you helped me in getting that graphic warning bill [on cigarette packs] passed into law.
Similar to that, I was thinking, should I now call upon food companies to put these pictures on products that mothers and children are buying to remind them how important vaccination is?
Again, it’s not my place. I am not the advertising expert here. But I, and my 23 other colleagues, are tasked to ensure that the welfare and health of our children are protected. So if we need to shake things up a bit, I think we really should.
If we need to put these in billboards all over the country. We should put these on billboards. Kasi ‘pag hindi niyo pinabakunahan yung anak niyo, baka ganyan yung mangyari.
I mean, I only gave my staff three minutes to pull out some pictures that are available. I don’t know if somebody can refresh my mind. About a year ago, in a long plane trip, which is my only time to catch up on movies, this very well-done movie on polio at the turn of the century, I think it was maybe in the early 1900’s, it showed these people paralyzed from head to foot, just lying in bed, just literally waiting to die.
It showed how they lived their life that way, because they were victims of polio. And we don’t see that because today, in this age, there is no polio in the Philippines. But it’s a snap of a finger away, Mr. President.
I won’t go on about the technicalities, beyond the reality that we deprive the life of these children, a life that could be spent climbing trees, playing piko, playing patintero, maybe even becoming a Southeast Asian Games or Olympic Games champion, if their mothers or their parents do not feel the importance of vaccination.