Over half of infants, toddlers in measles immunization program now vaccinated

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) has vaccinated over half of the population of children aged 6 to 59 months whom it targetted in its anti-measles campaign. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told Rappler on Monday, March 11, that 54% of the 3.7 million children aged 6 to 59 months have been vaccinated 5 weeks since immunization activities started last February 8.

“We are now at 54% [coverage] for children 6 to 59 months old. To give some perspective, last year we were only at 36% over the course of 8 months,” Duque said in a phone call. (READ: Love trumps fear: Payatas parents get babies vaccinated)

As a response to the ongoing measles outbreak, the government is in the middle of conducting a mass immunization campaign. Their target is to reach a 95% coverage rate, which translates to some 13 million people according to 3 subgroups:

Children 6 to 59 months old were the health department’s first priority, as infants and toddlers remained the most vulnerable to the highly contagious disease. (EXPLAINER: When should one get vaccinated against measles?)

Latest data from the DOH epidemiology bureau showed there were at least 18,553 measles cases and 286 deaths recorded from January 1 to March 7, 2019. (READ: PH among top countries with highest increase in measles cases – Unicef)

Of those affected, 56% were children 4 years and younger. Among those who died, 84% were from the same age group.  

What about other target subgroups? Duque said vaccination efforts for children from kindergarten to grade 6 was also ongoing in some schools.

The health chief said the DOH was waiting for additional measles vaccines from the United Nations’ children agency (Unicef) to complete immunization for the 7 million grade school children. The DOH, he said, wanted to complete this before the end of the school year on April 5, 2019.

In a situation report, Unicef said the first batch of 1 million measles and polio vaccines arrived Wednesday, March 6. The remaining 5 million doses were expected to arrive by the end of March or early April 2019.

As for the 2.6 million adults targeted in the mass immunization campaign, Duque said health workers were also conducting activities to have them vaccinated in health centers.

This subgroup is of the lowest priority for the DOH as many adults have already developed some protection against the disease. Those who have never been vaccinated or were unsure of their vaccination status were urged to receive the measles vaccine – the best defense against the disease.

End of the outbreak? Duque said it was still too soon to tell whether or not the outbreak could be declared under control. (READ: Why are measles cases still rising? Duque explains)

The DOH earlier eyed the end of April to start of May 2019 to see the measles outbreak controlled. (READ: A year after Dengvaxia: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar)

“We need more time to confidently say that because we do not want to contribute to that false sense where people might become complacent [over vaccination] again,” Duque said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.