It doesn’t sound as scary as cancer or as unpredictable as pneumonia. Maybe that’s why people have become complacent with illnesses such as measles, chickenpox, and mumps. After all, some think that these are sicknesses that can theoretically be treated and cured. Kids have gotten them, adults have gotten them, and they’ve emerged relatively unscathed. This type of thinking is partly what got us into this mess. We should never underestimate an illness and never become complacent with any potential disease – especially one that can be prevented.
How does the saying go? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? That couldn’t be truer and what people fail to recognize in this day of medical innovation is that preventive measures are always going to be better than treatment. Quite frankly, I am dismayed to hear about the deadly measles outbreak in the country. Measles hasn’t been a problem for years and now all of a sudden people – mostly children – are dying from measles all over the Philippines.
I think many people don’t properly remember that measles and chickenpox haven’t been an issue because relevant immunizations were in place to protect us from contracting these diseases. However, in the past few years a steep decline in vaccinations paved the way for measles to make an appearance again and spread with a vengeance.
There has been such a shift in the way Filipinos perceive vaccines and to be fair it is actually a global trend as well. Parents are being scared into rethinking their infants’ vaccinations due to possible side effects these vaccines might cause like autism or the like. They, instead, choose homeopathic remedies or organic food to keep illnesses at bay. While there is no harm in living healthy – this alone won’t save you from a slew of preventable diseases.
Here in the Philippines the situation is even worse because of the recent Dengvaxia scare. The vaccination discussion – which is already controversial to begin with – became a blazing fire and people were scared. So scared they decided inaction was better than the potential side effects. Thanks to the Public Attorney’s Office headed by Atty. Persida Acosta parents were scared and began to think that vaccinations, in general, can cause very grave side effects.
The problem is the Dengvaxia issue should have been looked at on its own merits. It’s hardly fair to compare a brand new vaccine to ones that have been tried and tested and around for decades. The PAO’s relentless pursuit of any wrongdoing as far as Dengvaxia was concerned, despite adequate scientific explanations from the concerned pharmaceutical involved, seemed to lump all vaccines together and didn’t clearly distinguish them from each other making many easily impressionable Filipino parents scared to vaccinate their children at all.
And it was this fear that opened the doors for the terrible measles outbreak this 2019. There have already been problems with flu and pneumonia but nothing quite as awful as the measles outbreak that has already claimed 72 lives just since January. And these are just the deaths – there are thousands more who have been infected and are currently seeking treatment. Stories about San Lazaro hospital overflowing with patients flood the news and the outbreak has spread to other regions in the Philippines as well.
This is unbelievable considering, once again, that this is a preventable disease. There is no reason that children should be dying from measles in 2019 yet here we are. Parents are once again scared – and they should be because their children are at risk. Those who have not had the vaccine are susceptible and those who are yet too young to receive the vaccine are in even more danger because they are much more vulnerable. Pregnant women should also be worried because contracting measles while expecting is dangerous for both mother and child.
It’s terrible that it has reached this point. Unfortunately according to the Department of Health it is also not surprising. Low compliance with immunization has been a problem the DOH has seen growing over the past few years and it was only a matter of time before an outbreak like this was going to happen. It’s all about numbers. Vaccines don’t just protect those who are vaccinated they also protect those who are not vaccinated because – for some medical reason – they cannot receive the immunization. This is known as “herd immunity.”
Unfortunately a country must achieve 95 percent coverage for the immunization program to ensure that all communities receive ample protection from the disease. In the Philippines though immunization has dropped drastically. In the past few years the DOH said that immunization was only at 70-80 percent and this dropped to 60 percent in 2018. It’s not surprising that an outbreak would occur with these numbers.
It is important now for as many children as possible to get vaccinated. According to the DOH children as young as six months can receive the vaccine if their mothers have not been immunized. If the mothers have been immunized though the baby may receive the vaccine at nine months as they are passed on antibodies from the mother and from breastfeeding.
It saddens me greatly knowing how many have died from measles in the past few weeks. Hopefully this serves as a stark wake-up call to parents to vaccinate their children and help ensure their safety. The health department also has to step up quickly and get the vaccines out to those in need. According to their spokesperson they have ample supplies of the immunization for vulnerable communities. They have to mobilize quickly and get the vaccines to them.
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