By Ben Rosario and Analou De Vera
With the rising number of measles cases, officials are calling for the expansion of the mandatory basic immunization program coverage and mass immunization in affected areas.
As of Friday, it was reported that at least 85 people have already died due to measles.
On the same day, congressmen voted unanimously to pass on second reading House Bill 9068, which proposes to amend Republic Act 10152 or the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011. The amendment will include in the basic immunization for all infants and children vaccines for rotavirus, Japanese Encephalitis, pneumococcal conjugate, and human papilloma virus (HPV).
The Department of Health (DOH) regional office in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) also announced that it will immediately conduct mass measles immunization to all children in the region, ages six to 59 months old.
“Due to the continuously increasing number of measles-rubella cases, we must immediately provide immunization to all children regardless of their vaccination status, whether they have received the vaccine or not, everyone must be immunized,” said Regional Director Eduardo Janairo.
“We will also include children ages five years old and above to ensure that everyone will be protected and further prevent the spread of measles to the population,” he added.
Janairo said that the mass immunization activity will include house-to-house visits, reading of message advisory during church services, and setting up of injection posts in certain public areas.
Highly contagious virus
“Measles is a highly communicable disease, having an attack rate of 90 percent among susceptible exposed individuals,” the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) said in a joint statement.
“Measles is a highly contagious virus and easily spread to others through coughing and sneezing… There is no cure for measles but it can be prevented through proper immunization of children aged six months to 59 months old, he said.
“I appeal to all parents to have their children vaccinated against measles. It is their only protection against the virus and it is clinically safe and proven effective for many years,” he added.
Dr. Susan Mercado, deputy secretary general of Red Cross’ Centers for Health and Humanitarian Action, in her Facebook post advised parents to immediately take their children to health centers if they have the 3Cs – cough, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and coryza (runny nose).
“Parents must take children if they are unvaccinated, have a cough/cold/red eyes and NOT wait until the rash comes out especially if there is measles in the neighborhood,” Mercado wrote in her caption.
She also advised against waiting for rashes to appear before seeking medical help.
“Measles outbreak in Metro Manila: key messages – vaccinate children, bring children with 3Cs – cough, conjunctivitis (Red eye) and coryza (runny nose) for immediate check-up, don’t wait for the rash, minimize interaction between sick and well kids. Take precautions. Use hand sanitizers, alcohol, masks,” she added.
Pediatricians urged their fellow healthcare providers to educate every patient on the importance of immunization, amid measles outbreaks in certain regions in the country.
“We should take every opportunity to convince and reinforce the message that the vaccines available to prevent diseases are safe and highly effective,” said the PPS and PIDSP in a joint statement.
“Vaccination remains the main intervention in reducing morbidity and mortality against infectious diseases,” they added.
Latest measles death toll
Based on the latest reports, at least 60 deaths due to measles were recorded at the San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
The DOH Regional Office 8 (Eastern Visayas) reported Friday that for January alone, eight deaths were already recorded. These are four in Palo, two in Tacloban City, one in Pastrana, all in Leyte; and on in Gandara, Samar.
Most of the death cases are children ages six to nine months, DOH 8 information officer John Paul Roca said.
Nine more deaths were reported in Calabarzon (Region 4-A); four in Central Luzon (Region 3); and three in Western Visayas (Region 6); and one in Central Visayas (Region 6).
Under the current immunization law, the mandatory basic immunization program of government covers seven vaccines, including measles and rubella or German measles.
The current measles outbreak has been blamed on the failure of patients to have themselves vaccinated.
Government health workers have blamed the lack of public confidence on the government vaccination program due to the Dengvaxia scare, a controversial multi-billion peso vaccination project that was later found ineffective and even dangerous to children.
But a Commission on Audit (COA) report pointed to the slow release of government funds for the low success rate of the measles and rubella vaccination program in 2015 and 2016.
HB 9068, which was passed on second reading, consolidated bills filed by Reps. Helen Tan (NPC, Quezon) and Cristal Bagatsing (PDP-Laban, Manila).
Tan said that aside from expanding the list of vaccines for vaccine-preventable diseases, the bill also empowers the Formulary Executive Committee (FEC) and the National Immunization Committee (NIC) to identify the diseases and recommend medicines and vaccines that need to be included in the formulary.
The FEC and NIC will have to base their recommendations from the continuing review of disease statistics from public and local hospitals and other health facilities.
According to Tan, the bill also provides a system of determining vaccine-preventable diseases.
“It also mandates the Department of Health to provide a department circular on the determined types of vaccine-preventable diseases upon the recommendation of the FEC and the NIC and the joint hearing of the Committee on Health of both Houses,” she explained. (With a report from Erma R. Edera)