Four Grade 4 pupils from public elementary schools in Malaybalay City pose with their mothers and health officials after receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine during the launching of the free school-based HPV immunization program in Bukidnon held at Kaamulan Folk Arts Theatre, Malaybalay City.
The Department of Health (DOH) has adopted a two-pronged approach in its campaign to protect Filipinos against diseases that burden life with the rollout of the school-based immunization program (SBIP) in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon to protect adolescent girls against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the elderly against pneumonia-related diseases.
With this step, the National Immunization Program (NIP) casts its net wider to protect a larger segment of young women with the administration of free quadrivalent HPV vaccine and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) for the elderly.
By shifting the immunization thrust from the community to the schools, SBIP aims to vaccinate more than 700,000 girls from the ages of nine to 13 in target areas nationwide.
By administering PPSV for the elderly, the DOH is optimistic that the risk of pneumonia for senior citizens in the country will be reduced significantly.
The DOH, with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), held the regional launch of the two immunization programs in Bukidnon with DOH-10 regional officials spearheading the event at the Kaamulan Folk Arts Theater in Malaybalay.
The Provincial Government of Bukidnon (PGB), the City Government of Malaybalay and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) actively collaborated on the program launch.
Dr. Elenita Gamolo, DOH-10 Chief of the Local Health Support Division, clarified that the school-based HPV immunization program, which targets Grade 4 female learners in public elementary schools, already began three weeks ago. She said they launched it officially so the public will have a greater awareness of the program.
“Girls ages 9 to 13 will get free doses of quadrivalent HPV vaccine to boost their immune system against HPV-related diseases including cervical cancer,” said Dr. Elma C. Oclarit, DOH-10 Head for the Family Health Cluster. She added that they will get another shot after six months. Older women are required to follow the three-dose regimen schedule.
It was emphasized that persistent HPV infection may take 10 to 15 years to develop into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related mortality among Filipino women with more than 6,000 new cases recorded every year.
Oclarit also urged women to go to their doctors or to the health centers to undergo early and regular screening through a Pap smear or visual inspection using acetic acid (VIA) to know if there are changes in their cervix due to HPV infection.
Mary Jane Lague, who brought her nine-year-old daughter to avail of the free vaccination, said she believes immunization will be beneficial to her daughter, a grade four pupil of Casisang Elementary School in Malaybalay City.
“I have no fear allowing my daughter to be vaccinated as her safety is my topmost priority,” Lague said in vernacular.
“HPV transmission can be through sexual contact and it is preventable,” said Dr. Filipina Villa, municipal health officer of Don Carlos town.
Dr. Ella Cecilia G. Naliponguit, Director of the DepEd’s Bureau of Learner Support Services, said the program is one of the good government initiatives to actively deal with the rising incidence of HPV-related diseases in the country.
The fight vs pneumococcal disease
Gamolo said the program to give free PPSV vaccination to senior citizens is ongoing as it is available in government health centers. She encouraged all those aged 60 to 65 years old to visit their health center for inquiry on the said vaccination program.
Senior citizens aged 60 will be given the first dose then receive the second dose after a five-year interval. Pneumonia is still one of the top five leading causes of deaths in the Philippines as cited by the DOH and is a particular threat to the elderly due to their weakened immune systems and other risk factors concomitant with ageing. Hence, doctors say the importance of vaccination must be emphasized since the risk of mortality among the elderly due to pneumonia is 60 to 70 percent.
Pneumococcal disease is a serious illness usually caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria which can attack different parts of the body. Illnesses caused by this bacteria include pneumonia, meningitis, middle ear and sinus infections and a potentially deadly condition called sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream.
Flora T. Bacus, 64, a Malaybalay City resident with five children, was one of the seven elderly who received PPSV during the ceremonial vaccination. “I’m glad I am one of the fortunate individuals who received the vaccination. Now, I feel at ease that I am protected against pneumonia,” Bacus said before the ceremonial vaccination.
Florence Binayao, 76, also of Malaybalay City, was another PPSV vaccination recipient. “I’ve experienced continuous coughs lately and it will be difficult for me if this will become pneumonia later. I believe vaccination can give me protection against this disease,” said Binayao who sat beside Bacus before the ceremonial vaccination.
With the two-pronged vaccination campaign, the government helps women lead a brighter future free of HPV and the diseases associated with infection, and at the same time help protect the elderly population from the ever-present threat of pneumonia.