Resurgence of preventable diseases blamed on parental vaccine hesitancy

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SEVERAL health experts in Central Visayas attribute the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as “whooping cough,” to the low child immunization rate due to parental hesitancy towards vaccination.

Local health experts also urged collaboration among authorities, communities and parents to address vaccine hesitancy and ensure widespread immunization to safeguard children’s health and prevent regional public health threats.

This comes amid the resurgence of pertussis, or “whooping cough,” in Central Visayas, especially in Cebu. Whooping cough, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, is a fatal respiratory disease that has so far claimed the lives of six infants in Cebu.

Low immunization rate

Dr. Eugenia Mercedes Cañal, regional epidemiologist of the Department of Health (DOH) 7, said in a news forum on March 26, 2024 that the region’s child immunization rate is only 60 percent, falling 35 percent short of the required herd immunity rate.

Cañal noted that some parents seem to prioritize birthday celebrations over completing their children’s prescribed immunizations.

In a separate interview, Ruff Vincent Valdevieso, DOH 7’s National Immunization Program coordinator, told SunStar Cebu that the region should at least have a 90 percent immunization rate to achieve herd immunity.

Herd immunity refers to the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

Cañal attributed the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases to low immunization rates resulting from parental vaccine hesitancy. She also highlighted the the spread of misinformation on social media platforms as another contributing factor.

Dr. Daisy Villa, head of the Cebu City Health Department, also tied the parental vaccine hesitancy to the effects of the Dengvaxia scandal in 2017.

“When we had (the issue on) Dengvaxia, of course, the parents were scared to have their children vaccinated,” she said during a virtual press conference on March 27, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic further instilled fear among parents.

However, Villa clarified that unlike Dengvaxia, vaccination against whooping cough is already part of the existing routine vaccination for newborns.

Dengvaxia was intended to prevent dengue fever. But controversy erupted in the Philippines when the vaccine was found to increase the risk of disease severity in people who had not had a previous dengue infection. This was revealed in the middle of a DOH-administered school-based vaccination program.

Valdevieso emphasized the importance of taking advantage of the free vaccination services to boost children’s immunity against preventable diseases. These vaccines for children aged zero to one year are provided at government-run health facilities, including barangay health centers.

In Cebu City, Villa said there are currently 5,000 single doses of the pentavalent vaccine against whooping cough available.

The pentavalent DPT-HepB-HiB vaccine protects children from diphtheria, tetanus, Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

DOH 7 reported six infant deaths from whooping cough in Central Visayas: three from Cebu City, two from Mandaue City, and one from Lapu-Lapu City.

Villa said the deaths included a one-month-old from Barangay Sawang Calero on Jan. 31, a 16-day-old from Barangay Talamban last Feb. 27, and a two-month-old from Barangay Tejero on Feb. 20.

She clarified that Cebu City had only 12 cases, with the supposed 13th patient, an infant, from Surigao City in Mindanao, who provided a Cebu City address upon admission to the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center for treatment. / KJF


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