THE Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with the City Government of Davao, on Wednesday, May 18, launched its Expanded Pneumococcal Immunization Program for Senior Citizens at the SMX Convention Center in Lanang.

DOH Secretary Janette P Loreto-Garin said the department seeks to prevent the risk of the viral pneumonia by giving senior citizens with free pneumococcal vaccinations.

She added that at least 95 percent will be immunized.

The vaccine will comprise two doses, of which, senior citizens aged 60 will be given the first dose and will receive the second dose after a five-year interval.

The senior citizens aged 65, meanwhile, will have one dose of the pneumococcal vaccine.

"In the past years, our pneumonia vaccine is only limited for indigent patients. We do not look at that as very effective mao na para maging epektibo kini, kinahanglan tanan senior citizens mabakunahan parehas sa mga bata (In the past years, our pneumonia vaccine is only limited for indigent patients. We do not look at that as very effective, hence, in order for it to be effective, senior citizens should be vaccinated just like the children)," Garin said.

Garin said all senior citizens aged 60 and 65 should have to avail of free pneumonia vaccination in their respective health centers.

She added that pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illnesses all over the world.

The pneumococcal disease is caused by a common type of bacteria, the pneumococcus, which could attack different parts of the body.

Illnesses caused by the disease include pneumonia, meningitis, middle ear and sinus infections, and a condition called sepsis, which is an infection of the bloodstream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 estimated more than 1.6 million people who die due to pneumococcal infections every year. It remains a major cause of mortality worldwide.

According to the Filed Health Services Information System (FHSIS) of the DOH, pneumonia along with acute lower respiratory tract infections ranks as the second leading cause of morbidity among Filipinos in 2013.

The statistics from the DOH consistently point to pneumonia as one of the leading causes of mortality among Filipinos along with heart and cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

It is also leading vaccine-preventable death in the country.

Garin said the pneumococcal vaccines have been long available here in the country, particularly in the private sector.

She added that the DOH wants to ensure that these vaccines will be distributed to all indigent citizens nationwide.

"Immunization with pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects people from invasive pneumococcal infections. In fact, the WHO recommended the use of the vaccine for the elderly and other risk groups," Garin said.

Dr. Rontgene Solante from the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID) also assured to the senior citizens that the vaccine is safe.

He said there is no death reported due to vaccine.

Solante said the pneumonia vaccine would in fact ensure the health of the senior citizens and reduce the risk of viral pneumonia nationwide.

Garin said the DOH has allocated an estimate of P342-million for the vaccines intended to around one-million senior citizens for 2016.