Low vax uptake against common illnesses puts seniors at risk

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter 

SENIOR CITIZENS, who are more prone to illnesses like influenza and pneumonia which may then worsen other comorbidities (or vice versa), must be vaccinated in order to keep them safe and healthy this rainy season.   

“Vaccination is an act of love,” said Dr. Lulu C. Bravo, founder and executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, quoting Pope Francis at a June 6 roundtable hosted by Sanofi Philippines.   

She added that older Filipinos tend to be unaware that vaccination is necessary, even for influenza and pneumonia, two of the most common illnesses among elderly.  

“The elderly are not used to getting vaccines. … They never experienced this [in their youth] so they don’t know that vaccination is important,” Dr. Bravo said, who pointed out that the Expanded Program on Immunization was launched in 1976.  

In 2020, there were 9.4 million Filipinos aged 60 and above, putting the country’s aging population at about 8.6% of the total population. The World Population Prospects projected in 2019 that this number will grow to about 16.5% of the population by 2050.  

Dr. Remedios F. Coronel, former president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, said that older adults are more vulnerable to influenza and pneumonia due to immunosenescence — aging-caused changes in the immune system.  

“This leads to increased hospitalization, reduced autonomy, and increased mortality,” she said. 

A 2021 survey of aging adults conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the Demographic Research and Development Foundation found that there’s an underuse of adult immunization in the country.  

The study also revealed how low awareness was among the aging population that government health programs for seniors provide vaccination — 70.4% were unaware they could get flu vaccines while 59% were unaware about pneumococcal vaccines.  

“Immunization for older Filipinos has not received much needed attention from physicians, policymakers, and the older population themselves,” said Dr. Coronel, citing the study. “This needs to change.”  

The Senior Citizens Act, which recommends flu and pneumococcal vaccines for the elderly, isn’t fully implemented either, according to Dr. Rontgene M. Solante, vice-president of the Philippine College of Physicians.  

“It usually depends on the funding of the LGU (local government unit). Meanwhile, vaccination campaigns for adults in the country are always private physician driven, meaning out of pocket coming from the patient,” said Dr. Solante.  

“As we move forward and the next focus of the new admin will be on UHC (universal health care), we hope this will also address the importance of vaccination,” he added.