Forum highlights public-private partnerships as key to a whole-of-society approach to immunization

June 29, 2023

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In celebration of World Immunization Week 2023, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham), in partnership with MSD in the Philippines and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), mounted a joint committee meeting on “Creating a Disease-Free Society through Immunization” at the Robert Sears Hall, AmCham Office, on April 28, 2023.        

(From L-R: Mr. Martin Crisostomo, Pharmaceutical Committee Co-Chair, AmCham Philippines; Rep. Tony Golez, Vice Chairperson, Committee on Health, House of Representatives; Dr. Romel Lacson, Country Director, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Philippines; Mr. Andreas Riedel, President & Managing Director, Merck Sharp & Dohme Philippines; Mr. Noel Borlongan, Pharmaceutical Committee Co-Chair, AmCham Philippines; and Mr. Ebb Hinchliffe, Executive Director, AmCham Philippines)

Health is high on the agenda of AmCham Philippines, with two sector committees dedicated specifically to developing healthcare systems in the country: the Pharmaceutical Committee, and the Healthcare and Wellness Committee.

The big catch-up on immunization

“The Big Catch-Up,” the theme of this year’s World Immunization Week, highlights the world’s renewed sense of urgency to get routine immunizations back on track. Three years of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the delivery of vital health services, which include routine immunizations for children and the elderly, especially for vaccine-preventable diseases.

In the Philippines alone, nearly 1.6 million children under two years old failed to receive routine immunizations over the last three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines already had low coverage on protective vaccines. Routine immunizations for children typically include vaccination against life-threatening diseases such as polio, measles, and tuberculosis. However, according to reports from UNICEF, the Philippines has one million “zero-dose” children, or children who have never received a single dose of their childhood vaccines. 

This puts them at greater risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria are rising worldwide. 

But all is not lost; with continued collaboration among the national government, healthcare systems, and the private sector, the Philippines can make a disease-free society possible through immunization.   

“One thing we all learned during the pandemic is the importance of vaccinations,” says Ebb Hinchliffe, Executive Director of AmCham Philippines. “It is AmCham’s role to connect—to connect with people, to connect people and businesses, and to connect businesses to the government. This celebration of World Immunization Week is a perfect time to connect, to see how we can all work together to create a disease-free society through immunization.”

Routine immunizations: The most cost-effective investment in public health

“Routine immunization is, by far, the most cost-effective public health intervention there is,” says Dr. Romel Lacson, Country Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Philippines. 

Investments in immunization yield high returns: Lacson explains that for every US$1.00 invested in immunization, there is an estimated US$52.00 return in terms of savings on healthcare costs due to diseases prevented over time. “So it’s important that the investment is there,” he adds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the Philippines has the capacity to vaccinate,” shares Lacson. As such, COVID-19 and routine immunization services can be further integrated, so that the same level of urgency and investment directed towards COVID-19 vaccination can also be given to routine immunization for children. “Saving adults from COVID-19 should not come at the cost of children not getting their routine immunizations,” he adds. 

Public-private partnerships: The key to a whole-of-society approach to immunization

public-private partnerships immunization

A panel discussion on how to create a disease-free society through immunization

Seeing firsthand the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the impact of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, who heads the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, shares that they have been working on several measures and initiatives to promote immunization.

One such measure is the filing of Senate Bill No. 2155, also known as the “Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) Act of 2021”. Once passed into law, the bill will establish VIP as the country’s principal laboratory for conducting virology investigations, research, and technical coordination of the entire network of virologists nationwide.

“The overall goal of the VIP is to help develop vaccines against highly pathogenic emerging viruses,” shares Go. “I am confident that this bill, along with other initiatives that we are pursuing, will help promote the importance of immunization and encourage people to get vaccinated.”

“But we cannot do this alone,” adds Go. “We need the support of all sectors of society, including the private sector, to achieve our goal of creating a disease-free society through immunization.” 

Congressman Anthony Rolando “Tony” Golez, Jr., Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Health at the House of Representatives, echoes this sentiment. “We are past the need to prioritize routine immunization—we need more investments in the manufacturing and production of vaccines to make it more available locally at a lower cost,” explains Golez.

This presents a golden opportunity for the private sector, especially vaccine manufacturers like MSD in the Philippines. Golez proposes creating a consortium of local and international pharmaceutical companies to create a robust ecosystem for vaccine manufacturing in the Philippines.          

Golez is also one of the principal authors of Republic Act No. 10606, also known as the “Universal Health Care (UHC) Act”, which aimed to ensure that all Filipinos will secure health insurance coverage from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). 

A former rural physician, Golez also filed House Bill No. 5452, also known as the “Service to Country of Physicians Act”, which requires new doctors to render six months of medical services in the countryside as a pre-requisite to getting a medical license. This will also help increase human resources for health in local government units (LGUs) to improve service delivery, supervision, monitoring, and evaluation.

Mr. Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines talks about the importance of collaboration in addressing gaps in immunization

“At MSD in the Philippines, our focus is to collaborate and raise awareness about the importance of vaccination,” says Riedel. “We want to emphasize the importance of collaboration between the private and the public sector, and, indeed, we have many opportunities to collaborate.”

“It’s also an invitation for the members of AmCham and the media to continue to partner with different stakeholders to be an effective channel to educate the population and counteract misinformation around vaccination,” adds Riedel.