DOH still far from reaching vaccination target

MANILA, Philippines – Nearly 5 months since a measles outbreak was declared in several regions in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) has yet to reach its target vaccination coverage rate of 95%, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday, July 3.

In an interview with reporters, Duque said that although health officials have seen a decrease in the number of new measles cases recorded nationwide, the outbreak is not yet over.

The health secretary earlier said the DOH would only lift that declaration when the target vaccination coverage rate of 95% is reached.

"We're far, far away from our target of 95%. It is 11% nationally. But bulk of the measles cases is on account of the first cohort [from 6 to 59 months], which is what we prioritize [when responding]," Duque said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The DOH, along with other government agencies, is conducting a mass immunization campaign to stop the spread of measles. Their target of 95% coverage translates to some 13 million people. This is divided into 3 subgroups:

Duque said that as of June 15, 98% of children 6 to 59 months old have been immunized.

Following this, the DOH is now focusing on school-aged children through its school-based immunization program, which targets to vaccinate some 9 million students.

Duque said he is confident the DOH would move closer to its goal as these students comprise "bulk of the target population." Reaching the target would translate to herd immunity, where people who already have measles will be "walled off" from the rest of the population.

Risking complacency: Health officials are cautious about declaring the measles outbreak as "over," as they fear doing so would lead to "complacency" and dampen the public's interest in vaccination. (READ: EXPLAINER: When should one get vaccinated against measles?)

Among the factors which led to the measles outbreak were decreasing immunization coverage rates seen throughout the years and the reluctance of parents to have their children vaccinated in the wake of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine controversy.

Duque said, though, that months since the outbreak, vaccine hesitance seems to have declined – at least within Metro Manila.

"I really should like to believe the scare is over, but that is perhaps insofar as Metro Manila," he said.

The DOH has recorded 38,508 measles cases and 521 deaths due to the disease nationwide from January 1 to June 15, 2019. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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