A measles outbreak in the Philippines — widely blamed on vaccination fears — has now claimed 136 lives, half of them children under four.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said a sweeping immunisation drive that began last week in Manila, and four provincial regions, may contain the measles outbreak by April.
“No ifs, no buts, no conditions, you just have to bring your children and trust that the vaccines … will save your children,” Duque said yesterday (Monday, February 18). “That’s the absolute answer to this outbreak.”
In a TV address on Friday, President Duterte also urged that children be immunised.
Infections skyrocketed by more than 1,000 per cent in metropolitan Manila in January compared to last year. Across the country more than 8,400 cases have been reported.
Scepticism about immunisation followed a controversy over an anti-dengue vaccine made by French drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur that was linked to the deaths of at least three children.
The Philippines stopped issuing Dengvaxia after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine could actually increase the risks of severe dengue infections under certain conditions.
More than 830,000 children were injected with the vaccine under the campaign, which was launched in 2016 under President Aquino.
Measles outbreak worldwide
The World Health Organisation has warned that efforts to stop the spread of measles globally have been hampered in part by anti-vaccine skepticism.
The number of cases around the world was up about 50 per cent, according to the WHO.
“This is an absolutely avoidable outbreak,” said Gundo Weiler, a WHO representative in Manila, the Financial Times reported.
Heidi Larson, head of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the alarming numbers were a worrying sign of the influence posed by anti-vaxxers.
“It’s very serious. Historically measles outbreaks go up and down but this is a pretty dramatic increase,” Larson said, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
In 2017, measles killed about 136,000 people around the world, according to the WHO’s preliminary figures.
Countries have until April to report measles cases registered in 2018 to the WHO — but the UN agency said the data it had received so far showed that about 229,000 cases had already been reported.
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