Issue of February 10, 2019

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It used to be that the country’s goal of having every child immunized against diseases was fully supported since the government’s mass vaccination effort was initiated in 1979. The routine schedule in all barangays was sustained, even survived changes in leadership, and has been fairly followed by parents with infants until recently.

The noble program targets to eliminate and eventually free the country of vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, tetanus, measles, and in recent  years, dengue, by providing children maximum immunity against these diseases through appropriate vaccines before their first birthday.

The ritual of attending schedules for complete vaccination, however, was recently disrupted due to the “Dengvaxia scare” that made parents stop bringing their children for dengue vaccine shots, scaring them off altogether from all types of vaccination in general. The Department of Health, as a result, is put on a tight spot with the recent measles outbreak that has been initially declared in the National Capital Region and which now has expanded at an alarming rate in Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Western and Central Visayas.

The number of victims who acquired measles more than doubled from 2017, 2018, and the early part of 2019, which is a telling proof people have become wary of vaccines. Records show that most did not want their children get “shot down” with any vaccine shot.

It is indeed a tough time for the DOH, because had the fiasco of the Dengvaxia vaccine been handled properly, people would have been assured that all other forms of vaccines remain effective, and a measles outbreak would not have occurred.

If current appeals and interventions by the DOH through Sec. Francisco Duque III remain unheeded and fail to work soon, it is only a matter of time the epidemic becomes a national health emergency.

It would be easy to point the fingers of blame on the DOH, other agencies concerned, even on the past administration leaders for allowing the controversy to happen. However, despite its unenviable situation, and while we agree that those accountable for the fiasco over the procurement of the then “untested” dengue vaccine that resulted in alleged deaths should be pursued, the DOH needs all the help it could have in rising above the current measles crisis.

First, we need to accept that the “Dengvaxia scare” has led to the measles outbreak. Second, we need to address the measles cases before more children die of the disease because as we always stress, a loss of life is one too many for situations where it could have been avoided. Third, people need to be reassured and come back to believing in vaccination.

The government, however, is having difficulty in expelling the ghost of Dengvaxia and gaining back the trust of the people on immunization programs because an impassioned advocacy – which we take meant well than harm – unfortunately raised undue panic among parents who have infants. This we believe has derailed efforts for an effective strategy that could have assured the public that the botched dengue immunization was an isolated case.

We always say concerted efforts among concerned agencies would do the trick, yet would often take the suggestion for granted. But if we are to overcome the present epidemic and prevent future ones, there is no more ideal way but to harmonize government actions in proving that the vaccines we use are indeed safe; in reeducating those who have lost their confidence in the immunization program, and in introducing the same to the uninformed – that it remains the most effective and time-tested way of fighting off contagious diseases.

We need to prove that the letdown that was Dengvaxia was an unfortunate episode that will never happen again.

It is a tall order, but as it succeeded in persuading the public back then when the health program was introduced, we are confident that the DOH could win back the people’s confidence on vaccination, and also regain its track towards universal healthcare for Filipinos.



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