The Philippines needs to keep using a cost-effective and broad-spectrum vaccine against pneumonia, especially now that COVID-19 remains a deadly threat to the population, a leading pediatric specialist has said.
“If you are inoculated for pneumonia, you are indirectly strengthening your body’s defenses against COVID-19,” Dr. John Ong said in a radio interview.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus. Those infected usually display flu-like symptoms like fever and coughing. They also suffer from pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.
Public health officials here have been using pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13, or PCV 13, since 2014, which protects against 13 pneumococcal strains, including serotype 19a, a virulent and antibiotic-resistant strain that is still prevalent in the country.
Ong said while PCV 13 costs more than another vaccine, PCV 10, it is in the long run “more cost-effective” because it protects against more strains of Streptococcus pneumonia.
He said a Department of Health study showed that with PCV 13, “we had fewer cases of pneumonia, we had fewer deaths”.
With pneumonia the leading illness behind health insurance claims, he said, the state-run health Philhealth has been able to conserve its resources and cover more patients.
Pneumonia is the No. 1 killer of children in the Philippines. It kills over 50,000 people each year, making it the country’s third most deadly disease.
“So, our experience shows that it’s still better if we use the more effective, rather than the cheaper, vaccine,” said Ong
Health experts from abroad have shared this assessment.
A leading pediatrician in South America has disputed a World Health Organization report saying there is little difference between PCVs 13 and 10, and countries may safely opt for either.
“According to the WHO, both vaccines are similar. This is where we don’t agree,” Dr. Luis Villatoro, president of the pediatric association of El Salvador, said.
Villatoro said El Salvador’s own experience with using both vaccines at the same time proved to be a costly mistake.
El Salvador was already using PCV 13 when the WHO came out with a position paper that nations may opt for either PCV 13 or 10 and purportedly get the same protection at a lower cost.
“Authorities thought it was a good idea to switch from PCV 13 to 10 to save money,” he said. “But in the long run, it became more expensive and more troublesome for health personnel.”