According to the study of the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), influenza or ‘flu’ is one of the most common diseases that afflict people 60 years old and above. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of senior citizens getting the flu and the deadly virus greatly increases and could lead to serious complications resulting in death.
During a webinar organized by the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination last month, UP Manila Institute of Aging Director Dr. Shelley dela Vega said, “As we age, our lungs and immune system age as well. We have to take care of our health because our bodies are not as resistant to infections as before. Which is why it’s crucial that our elderly get vaccinated against the flu in order to avoid complications from other diseases such as pneumonia, heart attack, and stroke. And of course, the most important thing is–the flu vaccine gives our elderly that extra protection against COVID-19. We always say that COVID is not just like flu but flu symptoms can be COVID symptoms.”
Despite the risks and complications that could result in getting the flu virus, many senior citizens are still not aware there’s a flu vaccine that could greatly help protect them from diseases. According to a study, only 3 out of 10 seniors are aware of the importance of getting vaccinated against the flu. According to Dr. dela Vega, one of the reasons for seniors’ vaccine hesitancy is because of ‘ageism’. “Ageism is the belief that since they’re old already, they don’t need vaccines–that vaccines should just be given to younger people. We need to change this mindset because it reduces the worth of our elderly. Other reasons include the misconception regarding vaccines’ side effects, fewer doctors recommending to their patients to get vaccinated against the flu, and flu vaccines not being easily accessible.”
The Department of Health started their free flu vaccination program for indigent senior citizens in 2011. Under the National Policy on Health and Wellness Program for Senior Citizens or HWPSC, the scope was expanded to include all senior citizens in the country. At present, the program is still in place but according to Senior Citizen Partylist Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes, despite the free flu vaccination program for all senior citizens, only 10% of them have been vaccinated. “This low level of inoculation, based on my research, is due to vaccine hesitancy awareness. Which is why I have been actively engaging in initiatives that would accelerate vaccine rollouts in the Philippines in different barangays, launch campaigns to increase awareness of it, and reach out to the grassroots to make them understand and hopefully overcome their hesitancy in becoming vaccinated.”
Given strict quarantine measures and granular lockdowns, Ordanes launched a door-to-door flu vaccination program so that senior citizens can safely get their flu shots at home. While they still have a long way to go, Ordanes said he is quite happy they’re making significant progress in the vaccination of seniors without them needing to go outside. “Intensifying our efforts in vaccinating all senior citizens is the only way that we can truly create a society where no senior citizens will get left behind. Because if there is a goal I have, it is to make sure na walang maiiwan sa ating mga senior citizens,” Ordanes said.
Senior citizens can get their flu vaccines from health centers nearest to them.