Because of the Dengvaxia controversy, which has caused an exaggerated fear of the potential adverse effects of vaccinations, the government’s preventive health programs have taken a big hit.
It’s sad that even tried-and-tested vaccinations, which have been shown to be almost 100-percent effective, have caused doubt in the public’s mind.
In our online chat group that includes the popular public health educator-couple, doctors Willie and Liza Ong, Doc Willie lamented the sudden increase in the number of measles cases in the country this year. The number of reported cases has increased 36 times—a 3,600 percent spike over last year’s reported cases.
Around seven to 10 percent of afflicted babies and children will likely die from complications such as pneumonia and brain swelling or encephalitis.
Some might go blind or become deaf, Doc Willie warns.
This is really a big tragedy—measles and its complications could be prevented in 97 percent of cases. That is through vaccination, which means that practically all babies and children who are vaccinated can be spared from measles and its serious, if not deadly, complications.
Although the incidence of measles has gone down dramatically in developed countries due to mass vaccination programs, it’s still a major problem in developing and underdeveloped countries, particularly in Asia. It can be potentially fatal especially for children, so we should never say, “Tigdas lang ’yan (It’s only measles).”
It’s a very contagious viral disease, and afflicted individuals have 90-percent likelihood of spreading the virus to others.
Measles is usually characterized by fever, cough and runny nose, and the virus easily spreads in the air when the infected person coughs or sneezes.
A few days after the onset of fever, skin rashes, like big mosquito bites, appear. The rashes usually first appear on the head, and then spread to the rest of the body.
Vaccination can effectively prevent the disease in almost all vaccinated children. A small number, around 2 to 3 percent, may still be infected by the virus due to vaccination failure.
Babies and children are usually given a combination vaccination—MMR (for measles, mumps and rubella or chicken pox). Two doses of MMR are recommended for children, starting with the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose when the child is aged 4 to 6.
Although the recommended age for the MMR is 12 months, I believe the measles vaccine may be given ahead of that, as early as 4.5 months, particularly in low-income countries with a high prevalence of measles in children less than 1 year old.
Even teenagers and adults who have not been vaccinated can get the MMR vaccination.
In several published studies in Africa and other low-income countries, early measles vaccination was shown to be safe and effective in reducing deaths, and was even associated with improved growth in vaccinated children.
One dose of MMR vaccine is 93-percent effective, while two doses can prevent measles in up to 97 percent of vaccinated children.
Doc Willie and Doc Liza, who have a combined following of around 10 million on their Facebook pages, have been reminding parents of small children to have them vaccinated.
I think the Department of Health (DOH) really needs to work overtime to win back the trust of people in its vaccination and other public health programs, and it should tap people like Doc Willie and Doc Liza to help assure the public of the safety and effectiveness of other immunization treatments.
Other high-profile doctors such as former health secretary Dr. Espie Cabral and health champion Dr. Tony Leachon have been pitching in to restore the people’s trust in the DOH and its preventive health measures.
The public’s aversion to vaccines has reached almost phobic levels after the Dengvaxia controversy. That’s one reason I stopped writing about it. The heated discussions, particularly at the Senate hearings, were no longer conducive to a dispassionate, objective discussion that could lead to a constructive step, and to ensure that the public’s trust in the government’s preventive health programs is preserved.
The Dengvaxia debacle was just a fly in the ointment. Vaccination, in general, is still an established, highly effective and safe, preventive treatment that can save thousands of lives every year from the complications of prevalent conditions such as measles.
Better afraid than sorry
I know I’ve advised against having children vaccinated for dengue even before the DOH’s antidengue mass vaccination among school children. But for measles, I believe we should have children vaccinated even before the recommended age of 12 months, and have it done as early as 4-5 months of age.
The measles incidence could reach epidemic proportions. Pardon me if I seem to be fear-mongering. It’s just that you’ll never know when the measles virus could hit our children. And it’s better to be afraid now than be sorry later.