It is not just children in the Philippines who are dying due to complications from measles.
At least one adult patient has died of measles complications at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila last month, said Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination.
Another patient, a medical student, also died one year after contracting measles after being diagnosed with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).
SSPE is described as a progressive neurological disorder of childhood and early adolescence caused by persistent defective measles virus, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
Bravo said the Philippines had already started to eliminate measles cases as early as 2005. Due to the low incidence of measles cases, she said vaccine protection started to wane in terms of protection due to lack of a booster effect from the community.
“What we recommend is to be given a booster dose of measles vaccination when you reach adolescent age or before you get pregnant or before you actually have children because then if you are able to get this booster, you are able to protect your unborn children,” she told ANC.
She added that the country needs at least 95 percent vaccine coverage of all children to be able to produce “herd immunity” or community immunity. The Philippines has an additional 2.5 million births every year.
“If you don’t reach that point, you don’t get the benefit of those who are not vaccinated but will also be protected. Even the adults who have started to have waning immunity or reduction of protection will not also be getting measles,” she said.
The health expert noted vaccine confidence in the Philippines was a record 93% in 2015 before the Dengvaxia controversy eroded confidence to only 32% last year.
She noted that hysteria over Dengvaxia has affected even the deworming program of the Department of Health.
“Our health workers -we call them the heroes of the health sector, they are also afraid because the people would say: ‘Here come the child-killers. Hide your children.’ In February-March last year, they were very scared to go into the communities,” she recalled.
She said efforts to explain the benefits of vaccination were also rejected after doctors were accused of having links to pharmaceutical companies.
Bravo said the low measles immunization rate has led to many children becoming susceptible to measles and its complications including pneumonia, severe corneal ulcerations, encephalitis and even blindness.
“There was a time when the most common cause of blindness in children was measles,” she said.
She warned that failure to curb the drop in vaccination coverage could lead to an even bigger health crisis.
“We are now in the midst of a disaster, a health crisis. We are now able to export measles,” she said.
She also warned that other countries might soon disallow Filipinos’ entry due to the measles outbreak.
“It is so pitiful, lamentable, that we will be quarantined, every time, Filipinos quarantined first,” Bravo added.
“It is a disaster because when other countries hear that we have measles, they will not come to our country. Tourists will not come to a country that has so many measles (cases), so many dengue (cases), so many diphtheria (cases)…Mind you, if we have polio in the Philippines, that is a real real danger because we have eradicated polio already. Oh my gosh, if we have polio here, God forbid. We cannot allow this to happen,” she added.