An experimental vaccine is being rolled out in a Chinese city. Photo: iStock

Health officials are working hard to vaccinate children in several regions in the Philippines after thousands were struck down with measles and some 136 deaths recorded as of last Saturday.

The Department of Health announced last week that there were measles outbreaks in parts of Luzon, the main island, plus the Visayas in the center of the archipelago.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the majority of fatalities were children, Rappler reported.

Duque appealed to the public to have children vaccinated against the disease. The Department said a total of 8,443 measles cases had been reported since January 1 this year, which is 253% higher than last year. The total for this time last year was 2,393 cases.

“We are expanding the declaration of the outbreak from Metro Manila to the other regions as cases have increased in the past weeks,” Duque said.

On Monday, Duque said the number of measles cases was continuing to rise, so the outbreak was not yet under control. He said that in order to declare an outbreak is under control, there should be a decrease in the number of cases.

The department is aiming to vaccinate around 12 million people to prevent the number of measles cases from rising. Duque said this number would mean 95% of the population would be vaccinated to reach a “herd immunity”.

Fear of vaccinations

Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the vaccination scare brought by the Dengvaxia controversy in 2017 was one reason for the latest measles outbreak.

“The reason why there is a measles breakout is because of the issue involving Dengvaxia. [It made] parents scared of having their children undergo immunization,” Año said.

In 2017, the government suspended its school-based dengue vaccination program following concerns over the risks posed by Dengvaxia, a vaccine for dengue fever.

There were fears the Dengvaxia vaccine could cause more severe cases of dengue if administered on a person who had not been previously had the virus. More than 60 children reportedly died due to complications from the vaccine.

The Department of Health said they could have the measles outbreak under control by the end of April or the start of May.

Canadian outbreak

Meanwhile, there has been speculation that a measles outbreak in Canada may have been brought to the country from Vietnam.

Emmanuel Bilodeau, a resident in Vancouver, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that three of his sons caught measles after a trip to Vietnam earlier in February, VN Express reported. He believed one of his sons caught the disease there and transmitted it to his siblings, who then spread the disease at school.

As of February 15, there were eight confirmed cases among parents, staff and students of measles in Vancouver.

Bilodeau and his wife said they did not vaccinate their children because they believed the MMR vaccine – for measles, mumps and rubella – may be linked to autism. However, he admitted they now know that studies suggesting such a link have been debunked.

In Vietnam, measles is a seasonal disease that occurs mainly during colder weather. Unvaccinated children are the main victims. This year, 192 cases of measles have been reported in Hanoi, almost 10 times the number in the same period last year.

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