What ignorance can do
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - February 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Thanks to science, the eradication of measles in five out of six regions in the world is within reach by the World Health Organization. The disease, however, is staging a comeback, no thanks in large part to the ignorance of anti-vaxxers who are spreading disinformation against vaccines.


It is unimaginable that in this 21st century, authorities all over the world are declaring outbreaks of the highly contagious measles in their respective regions. In our country, several areas including Manila and now Central Visayas are being afflicted by the outbreak. An outbreak is defined as a sudden rise in the incidence of a disease. In our country, the Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau has reported a 74% increase in measles cases this year compared to 2018.

In the United States, measles outbreaks have struck in at least 10 states this winter. The cause of these incidents can be traced to the decline of vaccination rates in many parts of the US where the anti-vaxxers are spreading disinformation about vaccines on social media.

If this dangerous trend continues, the number of unvaccinated children will increase over time and they, in turn, will pose a danger not only to themselves but also to others who cannot be vaccinated for certain diseases. The medical community has a term for exactly the opposite of this – community immunity. As explained by vaccines.gov, viruses can spread quickly in a community which can make people sick. But when enough people are immune to a certain disease because of vaccination, it’s harder for viruses to spread. The entire community is thus protected, including those who can’t get vaccinated.

In the case of measles, infants under 12 months are not yet fit to get an MMR vaccine, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, and the CDC recommends children get two doses of the vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age.

However, despite science telling us that vaccines such as the MMR are very safe and effective, the anti-vaxxers through the compelling influence of social media have spread fear toward the so-called “side effects” of vaccines.

Closer to home, those who jumped on the bandwagon to call a probe on the so-called “Dengvaxia deaths” in the Philippines should also account for their actions in the light of the recent measles outbreak. Because of the unnecessary scare about Dengvaxia, many parents have avoided vaccination programs for their children.

For sure there are other factors for the lower vaccination rates which led to the current measles outbreak. And it is counterproductive to lynch one person like Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta for this current mess. But to give us a rational view of what really happened about Dengvaxia, I yield to the analysis of a man of science, Dr. Raymundo W. Lo, MD, FPSP, FCAP, FASCP, published in the Manila Bulletin.

It all started when Sanofi Pasteur announced in November 2017 that in Dengvaxia-vaccinated individuals who have not had dengue infection, there is the possibility of severe disease if they contract dengue. The crisis that followed, Dr. Lo described, was more as a result of the knee-jerk reaction of the DOH which inadvertently made it appear to the public that “severe dengue” automatically means death.

In fact, according to Dr. Lo, based on epidemiologic evidence and studies, more than 90% of Filipinos have had exposure to dengue, symptomatic or asymptomatic. The figure is almost 100% in the 14 years old and above population, Dr. Lo said. That was the reason why the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program mandated vaccination only for those nine years of age and older.

But, as Dr. Lo described, all hell broke loose. “Politicians of all stripes jumped on the issue. Mass media blared out the ‘bad’ news of the Dengvaxia vaccine, causing sensationalism and widespread anxiety and hysteria in the general population… The Public Attorney’s Office jumped on the bandwagon and announced a probe of the ‘Dengvaxia deaths’ when there were no previous recordings of such deaths.”

In the end, truth like gravity is indeed immune from the biased and ignorant mob. Yet many people suffer as with the recent measles outbreaks, which by the way, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año traced to the Dengvaxia scare.

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