MANILA — Some common myths and misconceptions about vaccination or immunization were highlighted and clarified in a media discussion dubbed as “Usapang Bakuna” which was spearheaded by the Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), an American pharmaceutical company, in Makati City on Tuesday.
Dr. Benjamin Co, a pharmacologist, pediatrician and member of the Philippine Pediatric Society and Pediatric Infectious Diseases of the Philippines, said such misconceptions — which are usually speculations — serve as adversarial factors that sometimes mislead some people and stop them from focusing on the effectiveness of vaccines in saving lives.
Dr. Co noted that some people usually question the safety of vaccine rather than its effectiveness as he defended the value of immunization, stressing that vaccine is the greatest discovery of the 20th century.
“Vaccines have an excellent safety record. As a matter of fact, you could argue that they are as safe, if not safer than the therapeutic medicines,” he said as he pointed out that benefits should outweigh whatever risks there may be.
The doctor explained that oftentimes, misguided concerns distract the general public from pressing preventable health threats through the cost-effective immunization.
“It is a major obstacle in creating a healthier nation,” he said as he cited how immunization prevents two to three million deaths per year.
He cited as example the news that spread some years back that measles vaccine could cause autism. He said this was already disproved as it was retracted in the newspaper where it was published after investigation revealed that the said study was “fraud.”
However, he noted that while the report that autism spectrum disorder was caused by the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was disputed and proven untrue, such claim created “a long–lasting damage” in the sense that some people believed in it and did not balance the benefits of the vaccine, especially in the vulnerable community who refused their child to be immunized.
With regards to some vaccines that contain mercury as preservative thiomersal in the vials, he said that only few of the vaccine vials contain it and the amount is very minimal, just like the aluminum that does not pose health risks.
Other things clarified about vaccines are the necessity for the kids to be vaccinated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the prevention of high-cost illness among women, which is cervical cancer.
“Since HPV prevents sexually transmitted virus, some parents do not consider it as a necessity for their kids,” said Dr. Rosa Ma. Hipolito-Nancho, pediatric and adolescence medicine specialist at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and Manila Doctor’s Hospital.
Dr. Nancho said that HPV vaccination is recommended among young girls at the age of nine because it is at that age when they are most effective so that future onset of cervical cancer may be prevented, but is being disputed by some who have negative beliefs about vaccine effectiveness.
Nancho added that lack of enough knowledge is a hindrance so there is a need to increase the campaign on vaccine effectiveness and how it can contribute in adding productive years to the lives of the future generations who are susceptible to cervical cancer.
She noted that doctors should be further educated also that HPV is not optional to help in spreading more the beneficial effects of receiving such immunization.
“When the doctor is not so sure to express himself, then you can have doubts about it. But if the doctor is firm about it, then you will believe on what he or she recommends,” she added.
“The fear of the unknown makes things expensive on the part of the government. We waste a lot of money, resources, simply because of speculations that serve as a barrier in any government program,” said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette L. Garin.
She explained that as the world is evolving, many diseases are emerging and there is no room to be lax in pushing for immunization.
“The biggest problem here is that decisions on health are being made based on perceived risks not supported by evidence. We have the responsibility to rid ourselves of all these misconceptions, especially when we are making decisions for our children.
“Why do we have to wait — where a lot will die for some illnesses that are preventable before we act? Sometimes the act can be too late if there is already outbreak,” she added.
She said that the government, through the DOH, is continuing to enhance the immunization program for a more healthier and productive population, especially the children who will form part of the new generations later that can be government partners in inclusive economic growth.