With an ageing population and the need for a healthy workforce, the government and the private sector have to work together to make the pneumonia vaccine available to vulnerable segments of the population to protect them against this vaccine-preventable disease as well as boost morale in the workplace.
This call was made during the “Role of Pneumonia Vaccination in Boosting Workforce Productivity” forum, organized by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’ Pharmaceutical Committee in partnership with Pfizer.
Held last Nov. 9 at the Makati Diamond Residences and via Zoom, the event was in line with the celebration of World Pneumonia Day on Nov. 12. The day aims to raise awareness about pneumonia and highlights its causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment. This year’s theme is “Championing the fight to stop pneumonia.”
Dr. Imelda M. Mateo, president of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians, said in her presentation that older adults are at increased risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. Influenza and pneumonia can be prevented by vaccination. However, they remain major causes of morbidity and mortality in age-related diseases.
“Ageing increases the risk and severity of infectious diseases especially when chronic diseases are present,” she said.
“As the average age of the population rises, the issue of vaccination among adults is becoming more important. In other words, we want to prepare ourselves and make sure that there is external assistance through vaccines when our immune system or intrinsic immune system becomes weaker and it has to be boosted by vaccine,” she said.
Dr. Anna Sophia Salazar Fajardo, president of the Philippine Society of Occupational Medicine pointed out that worker productivity is important for the economy to rise from the pandemic towards recovery.
VACCINATION & THE ECONOMY
Citing an article from the Harvard School of Public Health which highlights the relationship of vaccination, population health and the recovery of the economy, Dr. Fajardo said vaccination “can continue to have an important role in the company because a healthy population can lead to economic well-being.”
“There is, however, low vaccination compliance. Out of the total population, more than 60% are eligible to be part of the working population and we don’t want to lose the senior members of the work force due to pneumonia,” she said.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, pneumonia is among the top five leading causes of morbidity and mortality. The International Labor Organization states that the work-related health conditions that cause the most deaths per year are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke and ischemic heart disease.
“In order to lessen the risk of pneumonia among the work force, immunization can be included in the safety standards,” Dr. Fajardo said.
She pointed out that employers will benefit from the provision of the pneumonia vaccine to their employees.
This will reduce costs by decreasing time missed from work and it reduces absences due to illness resulting in improved productivity.
For employees, the pneumonia vaccine will reduce absences due to sickness and doctor visits; improve health, convenience, as well as morale in the workplace.
“To implement vaccination in the workplace, there is a need to reduce the out-of-pocket costs for immunization. This will in turn increase vaccine coverage among employees,” Dr. Fajardo pointed out, adding that this should be included in the health coverage of all employees.
However, Dr. Kim Patrick S. Tejano, Program Manager of the Department of Health’s National Immunization Program (NIP), said that not all segments of the population are covered by the NIP. It only covers “those who are most vulnerable, which are the extremes of the ages as well as some of our special population.”
“This is because of the limited resources that we have and we need to prioritize which age groups that we will be providing this service with,” he said, adding that NIP provides at least 15 free vaccines across all life stages.
PRIVATE SECTOR TIE-UP
Dr. Gilberto R. De Guzman, of PCARES ReachOut and Malasakit Management Office Health Finance Policy Sector of Philippine Health Insurance Corp or PhilHealth, related that back in 2012, PhilHealth entered into an agreement with pharmaceutical company MSD where MSD would provide a 60% discount on the pneumonia vaccine, which came out to P600.
When the guidelines were reviewed two years later, PhilHealth wanted to peg the out-of pocket expense for pneumonia vaccine at P600. This, however, was challenged by MSD, arguing that the cost of producing the pneumonia vaccine had gone up. As such, the tie-up was not renewed.
“This is something that needs to be explored by the government and the private sector. We want to protect the elderly population which is growing every year through immunization. This in turn will lower the cost for admission for pneumonia,” Dr. De Guzman said.
Dr. Tejano stressed the importance of adult vaccinations under the Omnibus Health Guidelines for Adults which was released in June 2022. Under the guidelines, “all adults are strongly encouraged to consult and participate in shared decision-making with their primary care providers in order to avail of the vaccines appropriate to their conditions.”
“The guidelines encourage our adult population to maintain and update their immunization records so that your healthcare providers would be able to determine which vaccines you can receive,” he said.
In addition, the Philippine Guidelines on Periodic Health Examination (PHEX 2), which was developed by the UP National Institute of Health, recommended that the pneumonia vaccine be administered to adults between the ages of 18 to 64 years old.
“With the recommendations coming from the DOH and the panel of local experts on the periodic health examination, it is very important then that our employees receive their pneumonia vaccines,” Dr. Tejano said, adding that vaccinating adults also protects others who are more vulnerable to infectious diseases including infants, children and the elderly.
“The value of vaccinations extends beyond reduction of morbidity and mortality of vaccine preventable diseases. It also contributes to the overall promotion of economic well-being,” he said.
“With this, the DOH encourages and enjoins our employers to ensure the availability of the pneumonia vaccine and other vaccines to our employees. We have seen the importance of vaccination in health, the economy and society as a whole,” Dr. Tejano added.