Expert discussion on measles

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In a recent episode, NPR (National Public Radio) covered the ongoing measles outbreak in the Philippines, in conversation with Dr Ferdinand de Guzman, Head of Family Medicine at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, and Professor Leonila Dans of the University of the Philippines, highlighting the severity of the outbreak, which is one of the worst measles outbreaks in the world.

The host of the show began by stating that, since January, the outbreak has caused more than 500 deaths, and there is an ongoing distrust in vaccination that is not helping matters. Dr de Guzman explained that there were three patients per bed in some measles wards during the peak of the crisis in February and it was necessary to limit admissions for other diseases in order to try to accommodate measles patients.

When it comes to issues with trust in vaccination, Dr de Guzman said that mothers sometimes lie and say that their children have been vaccinated when they haven’t, to avoid being scolded by the doctor. In addition to this communication issue, a bigger issue was a botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, as co-host Jason Beaubien explained: “In 2016, the Philippines launched a nationwide effort to immunise kids against dengue. The French pharmaceutical company Sanofi had just won approval for what health officials hoped would be a game-changing weapon against the brutal tropical disease. But after almost a million kids were given the new dengue shot, the campaign was suddenly suspended. It had become clear that the vaccine could make some children susceptible to severe, even fatal, dengue. The government revoked the licence for the vaccine and brought criminal charges against officials responsible for the campaign.”

This has a hugely negative impact on perception and, according to Dr de Guzman, not only are some parents resistant to vaccines now, they are actually openly hostile towards health workers trying to have children immunised. Professor Dans explained more: “The administration of dengue vaccine eroded the vaccine trust, and because of this, a loss in vaccine trust, it exacerbated. I'm not saying it's the only cause ─ it exacerbated the problem of poor immunisations for measles.”

According to Professor Dans, if there is any silver lining to the current measles outbreak, it’s that many Filipinos are once again embracing the need to have their children vaccinated.