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The measles has returned to the Philippines, claiming the lives of almost 70 children. As a teacher in that country, the vaccine paranoia that parents possess is certainly real, and borderline legitimate.
This past week, an outbreak of measles got the attention of social media in the Philippines, owing to the alarming number of cases and deaths across the country. This morning, the toll stands at 136. This outbreak occurred despite the existing measures to keep the disease in check. The Expanded Program on Immunisation has been in place since 1976, ostensibly ensuring that all infants, children and mothers are given routine access to vaccines. However, parents are now choosing not to vaccine their children.
As a health professional working in the education sector, I understood the reason. I saw it. Parents lost confidence in the school-based immunisation program and abandoned it in droves. The Dengvaxia scandal authored this fear. Very simply, the vaccine of the disease was extremely dangerous for those who never previously had it. One report put it thusly: “…for those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection, for individuals who have not been previously infected by the dengue virus, vaccination should not be recommended.”
Per CNN, December 1, 2017: “Health Secretary Francisco Duque III orders the temporary suspension of the dengue vaccination program. Duque says 733,713 children from Central Luzon, the region of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon, and Metro Manila were administered Dengvaxia. Eight to 10 per cent or about 70,000 children have not had dengue yet, the DOH added.”
Four days later, the sale and distribution of the vaccine were suspended. On December 14, the Philippine Senate began its inquiry into the scandal. Before the start of the hearing, former Health Secretary Enrique said Garin, his successor, was “solely responsible” for the Dengvaxia issue.
January 10, 2018: A former Department of Health employee claims 19 officials (including former Health Secretary Garin) were part of a “mafia” in the department. That group allegedly benefited from the Dengvaxia purchase, saying that 90% of the funds go back to the DOH, while the remaining 10 was given to a supposed “financier”.
February 5, 2018: Per CNN, “(vaccine manufacturer) Sanofi Pasteur turned down the Health Department’s demand to refund used dengue vaccine vials. It said agreeing to the demand will mean Dengvaxia does not work. The Dengvaxia maker also rejected the Department of Health’s request to financially support hospitalised vaccinated children.”
The story continues, and while it winds, it leads us off the track. This is a dire situation that needs a prompt and appropriate response—a situation that will not resolve by itself while people are busy pointing fingers at whose fault it is that led to this crisis.
Being a nurse and a teacher, I need to reiterate the importance of immunisation. Before the setback, we were almost there. We need to strengthen and intensify our campaign to bring back confidence in the government’s program. Without it, there is no healthy future. What is past is prologue, what we do tomorrow matters.