Measles-free Philippines by 2017?

Jee Y. Geronimo

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The mass immunization in September will target 13 million Filipino children

MASS VACCINATION. The Department of Health is preparing for a nationwide measles vaccination by September this year. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Can the Philippines eliminate measles in 3 years’ time? The Department of Health (DOH) said there is enough time as it prepares for a nationwide vaccination September this year.

This is the long-term solution of the department for its target of a measles-free nation by 2017.

Isa tayo sa pinakaunang bansa na nag-target sa measles elimination (We’re one of the first countries to target measles elimination),” Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said in a forum Tuesday, January 7.

He said being measles-free means that in a population of 100 million, the laboratory-confirmed cases should not exceed 100 people.

Last year, the confirmed cases numbered 1,724. The Philippine population is 92.34 million based on the 2010 census, but the Commission on Population expected the number to reach 97.7 milllion by 2013. (READ: DOH steps up drive vs measles amid outbreak)

Tayag said the mass immunization will be conducted for the whole month of September, targeting 13 million children nationwide.

Measles is a viral, highly-contagious respiratory disease. Infected persons exhibit symptoms such as high fever, red eyes, runny nose and cough. Rashes appear throughout the body after two days.

The illness can be spread through cough or direct contact with body secretions of an infected person. A person with measles can pass the disease on to 18 other people.

Role of LGUs

Tayag urged parents in areas with a measles outbreak to have their children vaccinated regardless of whether they were already vaccinated or not.

Some 21 barangays in 9 cities have declared an outbreak in their areas, according to state-run Philippine News Agency. These barangays include:

  • Caloocan City: Bagong Barrio and Dagat-dagatan
  • Las Piñas City: Pamplona Uno, Talon Dos, and Talon Singko
  • Malabon City: Longos and Tonsuya
  • Manila: Binondo, Quiapo, Port Area, Sampaloc, Sta. Cruz, Sta. Mesa, and Tondo
  • Muntinlupa City: Alabang and Putatan
  • Navotas: North Bay Boulevard South
  • Parañaque City: Don Bosco and Moonwalk
  • Taguig City: Bagong Tanyag
  • Valenzuela City: Ugong

Tayag said it takes the department two weeks to get confirmation, but at the local government level, a suspected case already prompts an investigation.

Valenzuela Rep Sherwin Gatchalian told the department that LGUs can play a big role in preventing the upsurge of measles cases in the National Capital Region through information and mass vaccination. (READ: DOH: Measles upsurge due to kids missing free vaccination)

“We cannot rely on national government all the time since things like these are best managed at the local level…I’m appealing to the DOH to immediately convene a health summit to review the level of preparedness of LGUs and at the same time set a standard ‘emergency response template’ should there be any outbreak,” he added.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said a measles outbreak means “there have been cases of a disease – either suspected or confirmed – in a community or a locality where in the past there was none.” 

For Tayag, it means any barangay or district with at least one laboratory-confirmed case.

Lahat ng baby starting 6 months hanggang 59 months bibigyan ng bakuna regardless kung nagkatigdas na o tumanggap na ng bakuna – maliban na lang kung less than a month lang yung bakuna,” he added.

(All babies starting 6 months until 59 months will be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had measles or they were already vaccinated – unless the vaccination was administered less than a month ago.)

No overdose

But the vaccination of children aged 6 months old is only recommended for places with an outbreak. This is 3 months earlier than the prescribed age for the first vaccine (9 to 11 months) which they should still get, as well as the booster shot at 15 months old.

The first vaccine is 90% effective, while the booster is 100% effective, Tayag said.

Between isang bakuna at wala, lamang ang isang bakuna. Kaya kahit alam namin na baka di siya maproteksyunan…yung may bakuna, lamang na lamang dun sa ‘di nakatanggap ng bakuna. Subali’t alam namin na ‘di sapat yun kaya kailangan ulitin sa tamang panahon,” he added.

(It’s better to be vaccinated than not. So even though we know the child may not be protected…the vaccinated child has an advantage compared to the one not vaccinated. But we know that is not enough so the vaccine should be given again at the right time.)

In normal conditions, 6 months old is too early for a measles vaccination because maternal antibodies still persist in the baby, rendering the vaccine useless.

But during outbreaks, the vaccine is given at 6 months old because, as Tayag said, “nagbabakasakali ka na wala na yung antibodies at kakagat na yung bakuna.” (You’re hoping there are no more antibodies and the vaccine will take effect.)

Dr Beatriz Quiambao, president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, told parents not to worry, as there is no such thing as an overdose when getting more than the prescribed number of vaccines.

Tayag again urged parents to avail of the free vaccines, which he said, is the only prevention against measles.

And while it is possible to prevent complications, he said people die of measles mainly because they are malnourished or brought to the hospital too late. Last year, the department recorded 21 deaths due to measles. –

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.