Monday, September 23, 2019

Malilong: Of Dengvaxia and measles

The other side

MY SISTER-in-law, Malou Ilano, must be the most-feared elder among the one- to six-year-old children in the clan. She is a pediatrician and the children associate her with the sting of a needle puncturing their skin.

They’re too young to understand that the injections and the dread and momentary pain that accompany them have to be borne in order to make their young bodies more resistant to such diseases as diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. And yes, measles.

The parents—and grandparents—of course know better and so they shut their ears to all the crying and whining until the fluid shots are done. If an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so is pity for the screaming but otherwise healthy kid much more tolerable than grief in watching him sick and suffering.

It used to be that most parents behaved that way. They brought their children to health centers for vaccination and obeyed instructions to bring them back for second shots or booster doses. And the system apparently worked. Measles, for example, has almost become unheard of in a vast majority of households.

Now, we’re being told that it’s back on the upswing. The Central Visayas health office said there have been three known deaths from the disease in the region since last year. And the upsurge is happening nationwide.

It is not coincidental that the rise in the incidence of measles followed the uproar over Dengvaxia, the controversial anti-dengue vaccine. After it was disclosed that Dengvaxia could bring unwanted effects upon the vaccinated, a period of disinformation, some intentional and others born out of sheer ignorance, descended upon us.

The most pervasive belief was that Dengvaxia infects rather than prevents dengue so that any vaccinated child was bound to be sick with, and probably die of, the mosquito-borne disease. It came to a point where a child, who is brought to the hospital for stomach ache and unfortunately dies is immediately claimed to have been a dengue victim even without the benefit of an autopsy, simply because he had been inoculated with Dengvaxia.

Responsible and competent medical professionals cautioned against making rash judgments but their voices were drowned out by the hysteria fanned by some people, including one particularly pretentious government lawyer and her medico-legal sidekick whose only claim to expertise in what is clearly a field of competence for pathologists, was that he had attended a seminar.

But what was unforgivable was the message, implied from the deplorable lack of a caveat, that other vaccines could be just as dangerous to the health of the children. As a result, fearful parents shunned all vaccination, not just Dengvaxia.

There is no measles epidemic yet but the situation has become worrisome enough to prod the government to appeal to the parents to bring their children back to the health centers for vaccination. For the sake of the little ones, let’s hope that the appeal works.

Let’s also pray that henceforth when it comes to medical issues, we will listen only to the opinion of medical professionals.


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