MANILA – At least 70 people, mostly children under four years of age, have been confirmed dead due to measles outbreak in the Philippines and the authorities are blaming vaccine hesitancy for the health crisis.
The deaths have occurred since the beginning of the year but the department of health in a statement said the outbreak intensified last week and over 4,300 people have taken ill with symptoms of measles – a very contagious disease transmitted through air.
The authorities have put five regions on alert, although the highest number of affected people has been reported from Manila and its suburbs.
They have launched an intensive vaccination program for children in the National Capital Region to prevent further proliferation of the disease which infects respiratory system of its victim and can result in severe diarrhea, pneumonia, blindness and even death.
“Regions with high reported cases are NCR (1,296 cases and 18 deaths) Calabarzon (1,086 cases and 25 deaths), Central Luzon (481 cases with 3 deaths), Western Visayas (212 cases and 4 deaths) and Northern Mindanao (189 cases and 2 deaths),” the health department said in a statement on Monday.
Over 2,000 patients have been brought to the cramped San Lazaro Hospital in Manila affecting services there. The Philippine Red Cross has deployed a mobile unit with 100 extra beds to try and attend to all the cases.
Fifty-five of the total deaths have been reported from the San Lorenzo Hospital.
The outbreak of the disease is being attributed to the lack of vaccination among children in recent years, as around 2.5 million Filipino children under the age of five have not received the necessary immunization shots.
The health department said that around 79 percent of the people who died from the current outbreak had no history of vaccination.
Many Philippine parents have refused to vaccinate their children due to the scandal surrounding Dangvaxia, an anti-dengue vaccine which was used in the country between 2014-2017, until its manufacturer, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, admitted that it carried adverse effects and the vaccinated people who contracted dengue for the first time suffered more severe effects.
The authorities are investigating the cause of 14 deaths of minors who had received the vaccine, which has led to distrust towards all vaccines in the country and resulted in many families opting to not vaccinate their children.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III appealed to the public to repose their trust and confidence in immunization programs.
“I am quite sure that all of us sometime in our lives have been recipients of these vaccines which had protected us from various diseases,” he said.