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As news reports and social media posts continue to cover the 2019 measles outbreak in the Philippines as early as January, a number of people and institutions already expressed its connection to the paranoia following the Dengvaxia scandal.
While this may have some bearing in certain cases where families insist of no longer vaccinating their children, examining the statistics available from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH) presents a more objective look into the situation, which apparently, debunks the theory that the main cause of the epidemic is the public’s Dengvaxia scare.
Aside from local news reports from major dailies such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star, foreign news agencies already started covering the news including the United States’ The New York Times, Qatar’s Al Jazeera, and Singapore’s The Straits Times. The public’s concern continues to grow, considering it is not even the season for measles yet. According to a Philippine Council for Health Research and Development article from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) website, measles cases are typically expected to peak during the summer season.
The Dengvaxia scandal broke out late 2017. But if you look into the information from the DOH based on its survey document covering January to March 2018, the main reason children were not vaccinated was due to the parents being too busy to have vaccination done. The supposed fear Dengvaxia generated, which is what many news outfits continue to highlight in their reports, was not in the top 4 reasons why children remain unvaccinated for measles. Based on the DOH document, the top 4 reasons for non-vaccination of children for measles were: 1) Mother was busy; 2) Child not eligible for vaccination; 3) Child was sick; 4) Forgot the schedule. The DOH document providing the statistics is available for download at: 2018 Vaccine Preventable Disease Surveillance March 2018.
Meanwhile, the WHO reports a clear statistics of measles cases in the Philippines covering up to Oct. 22, 2018. This shows the reported measles cases in the country: 2,428 cases in 2017; 716 cases in 2016; 619 cases in 2015; 58,848 cases in 2014; and 2,920 cases in 2013. The WHO document providing the statistics is available for download at: WHO Vaccine Preventable Diseases: Monitoring System 2018 Global Summary – Philippines.
The said WHO report shows a cyclical nature in the number of measles cases coming out year after year. It specifically indicates an outbreak in 2014 seeing a total of 58,848 cases, which was years before the Dengvaxia issue. At that time, a more aggressive campaign against measles was implemented in order to prevent further outbreaks. Considering such factual information available, including the hype on Dengvaxia starting late 2017, the fear of vaccines and Dengvaxia are still not the primary catalysts as to why the Philippines is currently having a measles epidemic between 2017 to 2019.
It is important to look into these facts in order to provide a more objective call to action on how to address the current problem that many children around the country remain unvaccinated in preventable diseases such as measles. The government, primarily through the DOH and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), should work on a strategic information dissemination plan and ensure its effective implementation. They should focus on the main reasons why families do not vaccinate their children. Public officials should stop pointing fingers for their personal agenda and political mileage, while doctors and other health workers express how the term “Dengvaxia” already evolved into a word for a deadly sickness or a symptom for one for many parents, or how expired or damaged vaccines get before reaching people, especially those in the rural areas.
The lack of an effective public information campaign further leads to many news outlets banking on vilifying the act of vaccination, instead of providing objective information that the general public can better understand. The result of fake news and fearmongering explicitly expressing the idea that “vaccines are evil,” even without facts to back up such claims, are making things worse. A confirmed report saying “no confirmed death has been confirmed to be directly attributable to the Dengvaxia vaccine” becomes too difficult to digest by the uninformed and misinformed citizens across the country as the DOH remains less vigilant compared to the number of controversial statements expressed by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) in disseminating information related to the Dengvaxia issue, to the point that some Filipinos think that Dengvaxia is a disease caused by vaccination.
The government has TV air time at their disposal, not to mention the use of radio, newspapers, and the Internet, in order to better inform Filipinos about how vaccination works. Unfortunately, a strategic PR campaign is still nowhere to be found at this point. What soars high is the spread of misleading information about vaccination, as there is no nationwide mobilization of government health workers to provide objective information that the masses can really understand.
There is clearly a lack of public service advertisements explaining the importance of the measles vaccine and vaccination in general and when parents should take their children for vaccination on a national level. For many decades now, statistics and factual information have proven that vaccines prevent the spread of communicable diseases. It is high time for Filipinos to become more vigilant in preventing such health issues so children don’t become a victim of natural selection when science already gave the world a means to prevent these diseases.
Soriano, R. (Photographer). (2016, December). Vaccinating Child Against Communicable Diseases [photograph]. Las Vegas, Nevada: Mother’s personal photo of child.
Gonzales, C. (2019, February 7). Dengvaxia mess triggered measles outbreak, says DILG chief. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1082844/dengvaxia-mess-triggered-measles-outbreak-says-dilg-chief
Jaymalin, M. (2019, February 8). Measles outbreak in 3 more regions. The Philippine Star. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/02/08/1891906/measles-outbreak-3-more-regions
Gutierrez, J. (2019, February 7). Measles Outbreak in Philippines Spreads Beyond Capital. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/world/asia/philippines-measles-outbreak.html
Alindogan, J. (2019, February 9). Measles outbreak in the Philippines kills 55 children since 2019. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/measles-outbreak-philippines-kills-55-children-2019-190208164615406.html
Dancel, R. (2019, February 7). Philippines hit by deadly measles outbreak after controversy over dengue vaccinations. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/22-dead-in-measles-outbreak-in-several-regions-in-the-philippines
Gloor, R. (2014, January 10). Measles. Republic of the Philippines – Department of Science and Technology: Philippine Council for Health Research and Development. Retrieved from http://www.pchrd.dost.gov.ph/index.php/news/library-health-news/4000-measles
(2018, January to March) Vaccine Preventable Diseases Monthly Surveillance Report No. 3. Republic of the Philippines – Department of Health. Retrieved from https://www.doh.gov.ph/sites/default/files/statistics/VPD_MARCH_MONTHLY%20SURVEILLANCE%20REPORT%20.pdf
(2018, October 22). WHO Vaccine Preventable Diseases: Monitoring System 2018 Global Summary – Philippines. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/immunization_monitoring/globalsummary/countries?countrycriteria%5Bcountry%5D%5B%5D=PHL
Claravall, C. (2014, January 21). WHO procures measles vaccines and supplies for Philippines. World Health Organization: WHO Representative Office – Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.wpro.who.int/philippines/mediacentre/features/measles_vaccines/en/
Yap, D. (2019, January 16). No confirmed death directly caused by Dengvaxia — DOH. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1073615/no-confirmed-death-directly-caused-by-dengvaxia-doh
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