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Health authorities in the Philippines launched an emergency vaccination campaign Thursday in a desperate attempt to stifle one of the nation’s deadliest measles outbreaks in decades.

The Philippines Department of Health will concentrate the drive in the highly populated Manila region to stop the virus from spreading, which attacks the respiratory system and can cause brain inflammation, pneumonia, and death. Since January, more than 90 people have died, and over 5,600 individuals have been infected — a 190% increase from the previous year.

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"We are looking for parameters that the outbreak is now under control, but for now, we still see an uptrend,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced in a statement. “I think the most prudent estimation for the containment of the outbreak would not be until April or May.”

The measles outbreak is being attributed to a significant reduction in immunizations after a recent dengue fever vaccine scandal. In 2017, vaccination manufacturing company Sanofi Pasteur announced the now discontinued Dengvaxia vaccine may not be fully effective in preventing dengue fever and could instead cause severe infections in some individuals.

At the time of the announcement, 700,000 Filipino schoolchildren had already received the vaccine.

"The Dengvaxia scare has really caused damage to the integrity and the effectiveness of the Department of Health," Duque told reporters.

UNICEF Philippines announced the measles outbreak was “deeply concerning” and that the organization was working alongside local and national governments to curb the spread. Despite the Dengvaxia incident, UNICEF pleaded to the public to restore their faith in the nation’s vaccination programs.

“Vaccinations to prevent measles is available free of cost in government health centres,” UNICEF Philippines Deputy Representative Julia Rees stated in a media release. “The measles vaccine is safe and effective and had been successfully used in the Philippines for more than 40 years now.”

Vaccine confidence in the nation fell from 93% in 2015 to just 32% in 2018. The Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau claimed 2.5 million Filipino children under five years old are not fully vaccinated. Nearly 80% of those who died from measles this year were unvaccinated.


Defeat Poverty

Philippines Launches Crucial Measles Immunization Drive Amid Deadly Outbreak

By Madeleine Keck