Mistrust, fear in government immunization led to return of polio, other diseases

Mistrust and fear of immunization—triggered by the Dengvaxia scare in 2017—has allowed old diseases such as measles and polio to reemerge, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Friday, even as his department confirmed a second case of polio.

READ: PH polio-free no longer; virus reemerges; DOH warning out

In a phone interview, Duque acknowledged that people’s confidence in the government’s immunization program was shaken after they learned that the Dengvaxia vaccine that was widely administered could result in more serious cases of dengue among those who had not been exposed to the virus.

With the low vaccine coverage, Duque said, the risk for transmission is high.

Duque said that when the first case of polio in 19 years was reported this month, the government had already contained the measles outbreak in July.

Since the outbreak, he said, measles coverage for children aged 6 to 59 months has increased from 40 percent in 2018 to 98 percent in just five months.

“We hope to achieve the same for polio,” said Duque, adding that it was in February when measles outbreak was first reported.

Although only two cases of polio have been confirmed so far, Duque said, the probability of the disease’s transmission is high, and it is considered an epidemic.

The DOH has intensified its oral immunization against the poliovirus, he said.

After confirming Thursday that polio has reemerged, he called on parents, health workers, and local governments to fully participate in the synchronized polio vaccination program.

“It is the only way to stop the polio outbreak and to protect your child against this paralyzing disease,” said Duque, citing the need for 95 percent coverage to ensure the protection of the population.

While the DOH has not stopped administering the polio vaccine despite being polio-free, the 66-68 percent coverage is not a sufficient rate of protection, Duque said.

READ: Half of Manila kids under 5 got polio vaccine

He also emphasized the need for the public to practice good hygiene by washing their hands regularly, using toilets, drinking safe water and cooking food thoroughly.

The DOH on Friday confirmed the second case of polio, in a 5-year-old boy in Laguna. The first case was a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur. Samples were sent to the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Japan, where they were proved positive for polio.

The boy experienced the onset of paralysis on Aug. 25, 2019. The boy has been discharged from the hospital and is able to walk. He is closely being monitored for residual symptoms.

The poliovirus has also been detected in samples taken from sewage in Manila and waterways in Davao as part of the regular environmental surveillance. These samples were tested by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and verified by the NIID and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two confirmed cases in different locations is considered an epidemic in a polio-free country.

Based on the World Health Organization declaration of epidemic protocol, he said a country can lose its polio-free certification even if only one case of the disease is confirmed by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, as well as the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Japan.

DOH, in close coordination with local government units and concerned national agencies, and with the support of WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and other partners, is preparing a rapid response to the polio outbreak.

This includes a series of synchronized oral polio vaccinations to protect every child under the age of 5 in areas at risk beginning in October 2019.

Polio is an infectious disease which spreads rapidly. It can cause paralysis and, on rare occasions, can be fatal.

There is no cure for polio—it can only be prevented with multiple doses of polio vaccines that have long been proven safe and effective.

Malacañang urged the public to avail themselves of the free polio vaccination.

“Vaccines given by the DOH are free so it’s just a matter of convincing the parents their children to be vaccinated,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said.

A House leader on Friday batted for the approval of at least P800 million to cover the 5.5 million children in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon and Calabarzon that is the target of the DOH’s immunization drive for polio.

Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera made the statement after the Department of Health and Rotary International organizations signed a memorandum of agreement on Friday to cooperate in eradicating polio. With AFP

READ: National polio vaccination drive kicks off in Manila

Topics: Dengvaxia , Francisco Duque III , Department of Health , National Institute for Infectious Diseases , polio
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