MANILA, Philippines — The parts of the country battling a surge in measles cases are also the places where the controversial Dengvaxia was administered, the head of Department of Health said Tuesday.
Last week, the DOH expanded its declaration of measles outbreak from Metro Manila to other areas in Luzon and Visayas. This, after the number of measles cases in the regions of Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA and Bicol has shown an “increasing trend” as of January 26.
“The regions with the highest measles cases are regions of Central Luzon, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, NCR and Central Visayas. There’s one common thing about the [five] with the highest registered measles cases: these were Dengvaxia-implementing regions,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
Duque and other medical experts have asserted that fear stoked by the controversy surrounding the controversial dengue vaccine have led to lower immunization rates and the ensuing outbreak.
Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Acosta, who has been involved in the cases filed over the deaths being blamed on Dengvaxia and whom Duque said has helped erode faith in the DOH and in vaccines, has stressed she was only doing her job. She said the DOH should have done more to promote proven vaccines, like those against measles.
The DOH on Monday said the number of people infected with the highly-contagious disease rose to 4,300 with at least 70 confirmed fatalities.
In April 2016, the agency launched the school-based dengue vaccination program in schools in NCR, Central Luzon and CALABARZON.
In December 2017, the DOH suspended the government’s anti-dengue vaccination program—which was rolled out during the previous administration—following the announcement of French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur that Dengvaxia could cause severe dengue if given to those without prior exposure to dengue.
Over 800,000 schoolchildren had already received the vaccine when the administration of Dengvaxia was stopped.
While other countries dealt with Sanofi’s announcement by updating guidelines, the news sparked political drama and breakdown of trust in vaccines in the Philippines.
Duque said the Dengvaxia scare contributed to the drop in vaccine confidence in the country along with other factors such as “busy schedule of parents.”
He added that the DOH is monitoring the regions of Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao and ARMM for possible measles outbreak.
Vaccine trust returning
In the same interview, Duque said the public seems to be regaining trust in vaccination. He cited his visits to parts of Manila, where he observed that more children are being brought to health centers for vaccinations.
“When I did my rounds, I saw a marked difference. There are lots of people. Baseco looked like a market. You can feel that the public is now having a change of view [on the immunization program],” Duque said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He added: “It seems that the trust of public on vaccines is returning.” — Gaea Katreena Cabico