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DoH out to restore confidence in vaccines




THE Department of Health (DoH) has declared a measles outbreak in the National Capital Region (NCR), in Southern and Central Luzon, and in Central and Eastern Visayas. From January 1 to February 6 this year, Secretary Francisco Duque said, 196 cases were recorded in the NCR, compared to only 20 cases for the same period last year. There have been 55 deaths recorded at San Lazaro Hospital, children from three to five years old. For the whole of 2018, there were 3,646 measles cases in NCR, up from 381 cases in 2017.

Earlier, last December, the DoH said that from January to November in 2018 in the entire country, there were a total of 18,026 measles cases, up from 3,804 cases the previous year. There were 164 deaths, compared to 23 in 2017. The biggest increase in cases in the provinces was in the Davao region –1,531 cases, up from only 71 in 2017.

The big measles outbreak has been one unfortunate effect of the Dengvaxia con­troversy which has been in the news for months. At the time of the 2018 DoH report last December, Undersecretary Rolando Enriquez Domingo said public distrust and lack of confidence in vaccines appeared to be the major cause of the massive increase in the number of measles cases.

“There is a loss of confidence among our people. There are doubts,” he said. “We have been intensifying our communications plans and we’re reaching out to communities to convince them anew on the safety and value of vaccines.”

Doubts about vaccines in general were fueled by the Dengvaxia controversy which continues unresolved with two committees of the House of Representatives conduct­ing inquiries for a number of months now.

The DoH said more than 820,000 people had been vaccinated with Dengvaxia, before its maker, Sanofi Pasteur, issued a global warning last year that people who had no prior exposure to dengue would suffer severe symptom of the disease if inoculated with its vaccine.

Cases of children getting ill began cropping up in the country, without any official confirmation of actual cause of death. But the harm was done – parents, fearing for their children, lost all confidence in all kinds of vaccines.

At the cabinet meeting in Malacanang last Wednesday, President Duterte ordered the DoH to launch an intensified campaign for the complete immunization of children, not just for measles but also for flu, diphtheria, and other children’s ailments. As of the latest count, according to Dr. Ruby Constantino, director of the DoH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, some 2.4 million children all over the country have not received the usual vaccines.

An all-out campaign must be carried out to inform parents that the Dengvaxia scare was an aberration and that their children need protection against many childhood diseases, which can be provided by vaccination.