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Opinion

EDITORIAL - A looming measles outbreak

The Philippine Star

The COVID threat has significantly eased, but another disease continues to pose risks in the country particularly to children. From Jan. 1 to Nov. 5 this year, measles cases have doubled from the same period in 2022, jumping from 171 to 515, according to the Department of Health.

DOH officials have warned that a measles outbreak looms next year due to low immunization for the disease that can be prevented through vaccination. All 17 regions nationwide are currently at high risk for a measles outbreak in 2023, the DOH warned.

Health experts have attributed the continuing increase in measles cases to low immunization. The DOH is hoping to vaccinate 95 percent of eligible children against a potentially deadly disease. As of 2021, however, the DOH estimated that 1.6 million Filipino children were not vaccinated against measles. Health experts fear that the actual number could reach three million once a full count is completed.

Even before COVID-19 spread worldwide, a hysterical campaign against Dengvaxia, the world’s first vaccine against dengue, had soured many Filipinos to inoculation. In 2018, official data showed that first-dose measles vaccine uptake in the country plummeted by 75 percent. A study of 5,562 measles-afflicted children between January 2016 and December 2019 showed that 41 percent of measles deaths occurred among children younger than nine months. No child who had received two measle vaccine doses died.

Following the Dengvaxia scare, parents kept their children from taking tested, life-saving vaccines against other common diseases such as mumps, rubella and whooping cough. In September 2019, polio returned to the country after 19 years thanks to the vaccine hesitancy driven by the Dengvaxia scare.

The COVID pandemic further hampered the general immunization program as children were locked down at home and infection risks made people stay away from medical centers for ordinary inoculation. While the lockdowns also slowed down transmission of pathogens, childhood vaccine uptake also dropped dramatically.

From 2017 to 2019, measles outbreaks around the world increased, with the largest outbreak in the Western Pacific recorded in the Philippines. This year, the highest measles infection numbers so far have been recorded in Calabarzon followed by Central Visayas and Metro Manila. Along with efforts to boost COVID vaccine uptake, more effort is needed by multiple agencies to push the general immunization program.

COVID-19

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