By Gillian M. Cortez, et al., February 7 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Philippine Star

OFFICIALS ON Wednesday acknowledged the rise in vaccine hesitancy amid a widening measles outbreak in Luzon and parts of the Visayas, as the Department of Health (DoH) assured strict monitoring on the situation.

“With the defaulters adding through the years, tapos biglang nadagdagan nitong (then suddenly there has been a spike in [measles] cases this) 2018, I think it set up the setting of what we’re having now and the Department of Health will be concentrating this 2019 to improve our immunization rates,” Undersecretary Rolando Enrique D. Domingo said in a press conference on Thursday led by Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III .

Mr. Duque for his part said, “(T)here will be a little bit of tweaking in terms of a new approach that we will be adopting. Mas magkakaroon ng house-to-house o susuriin natin ang unvaccinated population.” (There will be a more [vigilant] house-to-house [campaign], or we will monitor the unvaccinated population).

Mr. Duque acknowledged the outbreak but qualified that “(a)n outbreak means it’s a rise in cases but this is not an epidemic.”

For his part, Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año told reporters on Thursday, “Kagabi pinag-usapan‘yan sa Cabinet at ang reason kung bakit nagkaroon ng measles outbreak (is) because of the issue on Dengvaxia. Natakot magpa-immune ‘yung mga magulang para sa mga anak nila. So ang nangyari ngayon, way below ‘yung ating statistics sa immunization compared to previous years. Bumababa naman sa 20 percent.” (It was discussed last night by the Cabinet that the reason why there was a measles outbreak is because of the issue on Dengvaxia. Parents became reluctant to have their children immunized. So what happened was, the statistics on immunization is way below compared to previous years. It went down 20 percent).

For her part, Mary Jane R. Juanico, medical officer III and Child Health team leader of Department of Health-Center for Health Development (DoH-CHD)-6, said, “The low immunization is because most of our parents and caregiver(s)…are unaware of our supplemental immunization campaign and also most of them are still affected (by) the Dengvaxia scare.”

In a statement on Jan. 31, Mr. Duque III said the DoH reached out to various agencies including the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) in connection with resolving the Dengvaxia cases. But PAO chief Persida V. Rueda-Acosta “refuse(d) to cooperate and continue(d) to attack and throw baseless claims accusations at the Department of Health and myself,” Mr. Duque said.

“As a consequence, we saw a decline in vaccine confidence and a rise in cases of measles and other vaccine-preventable disease,” he said.

Data provided by the Epidemiology Bureau of the DoH showed measles cases rising to as much as a hundredfold in at least four regions in Luzon, including the National Capital Region (NCR) which registered 441 cases as of Jan. 26 this year, as opposed to 36 in a 2018 tally.

Calabarzon (Region 4-A) so far has 575 cases and nine deaths, followed by NCR with 441 cases of measles and five deaths; Central Luzon (Region 3), 192 cases and four deaths; Western Visayas (Region 6), 104 cases and three deaths; Mimaropa (Region 4-B), 70 cases and no death; Ilocos (Region 1), 64 cases and two deaths; Central Visayas (Region 7), 71 cases and one death; and Eastern Visayas (Region 8), 54 cases and one death.

Mr. Duque also cited the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in their efforts in partnership with the agency.

WHO is “helping us manage the measles outbreak,” the DoH chief said. “The PRC is helping us as well in building our capacity….For now, the national medical centers still (have) absorbing capacity.”

WHO has flagged vaccine hesitancy as among the leading health concerns this year. In a tweet on Thursday, WHO Regional Director Takeshi Kasai said, “I have seen so much tragedy caused by measles. No parent should have to see their child suffer and die. Vaccination can prevent measles. Please, vaccinate your children.”

For his part, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said in a text message to reporters, “PAO Chief Acosta is just doing her job and certainly does not intend to scare the public about the possible negative effects of vaccination in general.”

“That’s why the DoH, with the president’s support, will launch a vigorous campaign to inform the people about the necessity of vaccination to prevent common illnesses such as flu and measles,” he added. reports by Gillian M. Cortez, Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, Emme Rose S. Santiagudo andVann Marlo M. Villegas