MANILA, Philippines – Both the Department of Health (DOH) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) said there is no reason for the public to panic over the mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis.
“Yes, no need to panic! We are seeing less cases this year!” Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told Rappler in a text message on Wednesday, September 13.
She said the DOH is also planning to include the Japanese encephalitis vaccine in its free immunization program by next year.
Dr Salvacion Gatchalian, PIDSP vice president, also allayed growing fears online that there is a shortage of vaccine for the disease.
“There is no need to panic because in fact, physicians have actually been giving this vaccine at least in private practice because it’s recommended in our immunization schedule already since 2016,” said Gatchalian during a forum about Japanese encephalitis held at the Dusit Thani Manila hotel in Makati City on Wednesday.
Japanese encephalitis involves the inflammation of the brain. The disease is passed on to humans through the bite of the Culex tritaeniorhynchus mosquito, which is active during the day and night.
Persons bitten by this mosquito may not register symptoms 5 to 15 days after being bitten. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Severe cases include neck stiffness, seizures, paralysis, and comatose that may lead to death.
In the past days, the disease has been a hot topic on social media, which Gatchalian said led to “misinformation” that cases of Japanese encephalitis have increased and there is a shortage of the vaccine against it.
The DOH, however, said only 133 cases have been recorded as of August 26, which is 44% lower than the data recorded during the same period last year. Of these cases, only 9 have died.
Sanofi Pasteur country regulatory affairs head Jervin Papelleras also said there is no scarcity of the vaccine, though they are exerting extra effort to immediately deliver more of it to authorized channels.
His company is the only one accredited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to distribute the Japanese encephalitis vaccine in the Philippines.
“The company is exerting all efforts to meet this increase in demand for the vaccine. We expect that supply of this vaccine to the public will normalize very soon,” Papelleras said.
Warning vs buying vaccine online
Following the public’s concerns, Japanese encephalitis vaccines are now being sold online. But the FDA issued an advisory against buying the vaccine from unauthorized dealers.
Gatchalian warned parents that buying the vaccine online could be risky for their children.
“They have to make sure they only buy it from the one licensed by the FDA. Sometimes other people import vaccines to the Philippines. But the FDA has not analyzed these, so we’re not sure if they’re safe,” said Gatchalian in Filipino.
For now, the safest way to avail of the vaccine is to buy it straight from the doctor who will administer the shot. The DOH estimates the price of each dose between P2,000 and P4,000.
“It is administered subcutaneously as a single dose for those 9 months and older. For individuals 9 months to 17 years of age, a booster dose is recommended 12 to 24 months after the primary dose,” said Sanofi in a statement.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella also said the government is “closely monitoring” cases of Japanese encephalitis.
“We encourage the local government units to report and notify suspect cases of Japanese encephalitis,” said Abella. – Rappler.com
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