The Philippine Senate has passed on third reading a measure that will expand the government’s national immunization program to include mandatory Hepatitis B vaccination of all infants within 24 hours from birth.
Principally authored by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, Senate Bill No.138, “An Act Requiring Immunization Services Against Hepatitis B for Infants,” is the very first measure approved by the chamber in the 15th Congress.
Cayetano, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, welcomed the approval as an initial step to address the spread of the disease, which currently affects more than eight million Filipinos, according to official estimates.
Explaining the need to enact the measure, Cayetano said Presidential Decree No. 996 issued in 1976 made basic immunization services in the country compulsory for infants and children below eight years old. Republic Act 7846 would later amend PD 996 to expand the scope of basic immunization services to include Hepa-B vaccination. The new law however limited the coverage only to newborn infants of women who are positive with Hepatitis B.
But in the public hearings and consultations conducted by Cayetano’s committee, liver disease experts recommended the immunization of all infants, whether or not born of mothers who tested positive for the virus.
“Research shows that immunizing a newborn within 24 hours from birth remains the most effective preventive measure against the Hepatitis B virus. An immunization program implemented at the grassroots level is also the most effective means of mitigating the spread of Hepa-B infections,” she said.
Under the bill, infants born outside a hospital or medical clinic should be brought to any available health care facility and immunized against Hepa-B within 24 hours and not later than seven days from birth.
Subsequent doses of the vaccine shall be completed according to the recommended schedule of Hepatitis B immunization as provided in the law’s implementing rules and regulations.
Health care practitioners and workers who are administering prenatal care shall educate all pregnant mothers on the importance of giving their infants basic immunization services.
Funding for the mandatory Hepa-B immunization program will be sourced from the General Appropriations Act and supplemented throughthe 2.5% allocation for the disease prevention program of the DOH from incremental revenues from the alcohol and tobacco excise taxes under Republic Act 9334.
Additionally, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation shall be tasked to include basic immunization services in its benefit package when actuarial studies have determined its financial stability.