A measles outbreak has been declared, first in Metro Manila and eventually in other parts of the country. As of Friday, 60 children have died of measles just at the San Lazaro Hospital alone. Across other regions, the number of those afflicted with the communicable disease climbs steadily.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said measles cases in Metro Manila had risen more than fivefold to 1,500 this year to only 250 last year. The exponential increase is attributed to the refusal of parents and other guardians to have their children vaccinated following the much publicized controversy over Dengvaxia.
In 2015, the Department of Health entered into a P3.5-billion contract with French pharmaceutical Sanofi Pasteur to distribute vaccines against dengue fever. Later on, however, the company revealed the medicine could in fact cause a more serious strain of dengue if the recipient had not had the disease before.
The controversy resulted in congressional investigations, a graft case involving no less than former President Aquino, and significant public scare whether or not it was founded.
In fact a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said public confidence in vaccines plunged to 32 percent in 2018 from 93 percent in 2015.
The DOH meanwhile said that vaccine coverage rate sank to 40 percent in 2018 from 70 percent the previous year. In the first nine months of 2018, the number of unvaccinated children grew to over 960,000 from 850,000 the same period the previous year.
This week, the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines issued a statement reminding parents that vaccines available to prevent diseases are safe and highly effective, and that vaccination remains the main intervention in reducing morbidity and mortality against infectious diseases.
The doctors’ groups also urged parents to have their babies vaccinated against measles earlier than the recommended age.
National agencies and local government units need to step up their efforts to educate parents that there is no harm in vaccinating their children against measles. In fact, not doing otherwise would be detrimental to their health, as we are seeing now.
Blaming the people who were driven to fear does not help; after all, they merely reacted to the combination of sensationalism, antics and denials that they have seen. Hampered by many factors ranging from lack of education to lack of resources, they were not able to exercise critical thinking to counter the input. Shall they be consigned to the dark indefinitely?
Measles is a deadly disease; it is a senseless snuffing out of lives of children. What rankles is that science has established it is preventable. Parents do decide on whether they should have their children vaccinated, but it is the job of the government to enable them to make the enlightened decision.