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DoH flags vaccine hesitancy as measles cases rise

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PHILSTAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) on Monday reported an estimated threefold rise in measles cases nationwide, with the death toll now at 70.

“Validated data from different regions of the country by the Epidemiology Bureau of DoH revealed that from 1 January to 9 February this year, a total of 4,302 measles cases have been reported, with 70 deaths,” DoH said in a statement on Monday, adding that 79% of the reported deaths were unvaccinated patients.

The National Capital Region (NCR) has the highest number of measles cases at 1,296 cases, with 18 deaths, followed by Region 4-A (Calabarzon), with 1,086 cases and 25 deaths. The latest figures on measles cases were the estimated total nationwide from last week’s update. Monday’s update on DoH’s monitoring is now beyond Luzon where the initial cases were reported.

Region 3 (Central Luzon) has 481 cases and three deaths. Region 6 (Western Visayas) has 212 cases and four deaths, and Region 10 (Northern Mindanao) has 189 cases and two deaths.

Vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 public health risks this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Vaccine hesitancy, DoH said in its statement, “refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.”

WHO Representative in the Philippines Gundo Aurel Weiler said in an email last week, “While prior to the suspension of the dengue vaccination programme almost 100% of the population believed vaccines are safe and effective, this confidence has dropped to below 80%. As a result we see decreasing vaccination rates in the Philippines, which are now falling far below the necessary coverage to protect from outbreaks.”

The DoH statement also read, “The causes of measles outbreak involved a number of factors or elements. Loss of public confidence and trust in vaccines in the immunization program brought about by the Dengvaxia controversy has been documented as one of many factors that contributed to vaccine hesitancy in the country. This refers to mothers who became hesitant to have their children vaccinated with vaccines that were long proven to be effective.”

For his part, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in the statement, “I appeal to the public to rebuild your trust and confidence in vaccines that were long proven to be effective, and I am quite sure that all of us sometime in our lives have been recipients of these vaccines which had protected us from various diseases.”

Also in a statement, president Dr. Anna Lisa T. Ong-Lim of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines said, “(W)e should take every opportunity to convince and reinforce the message that the 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.” — Gillian M. Cortez