Measles Outbreak in Manila: Partly Parents’ Fault, Expert Says

Thursday, February 06, 2014 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

What caused the recent measles outbreak in Manila? Does the measles vaccine cause autism? Is the outbreak really over? These sound like very simple questions, but the answers are not as simple as I would like them to be.

measles vaccination and autism
And if you think the measles vaccine causes autism, please give me your undivided attention.

“It is not the government’s fault if parents don’t find the time to have their children vaccinated against measles,” said Dr. May Montellano, President of the Philippine Foundation of Vaccination, during a media discussion on the recent measles outbreak in Manila. The discussion was organized by Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD).

Measles Outbreak in Manila: What You Didn’t Know

During the round-table discussion which I attended last January 27, 2014, Dr. Montellano emphasized the integral role of a family in preventing outbreaks. “Immunization is the most cost-effective preventive health measure in this century,” she added, quoting the joint position statement of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines.

measles outbreak in ManilaMembers of the press attend the round-table discussion on measles vaccination.

Well, that’s not really news, you might think. But there are a few things I learned that day which didn’t exactly make it to the news – and those are the things I wanted to share with you.

  • The outbreak is worse than you think. The outbreak you once saw in the news was focused only on specific areas in Manila, but the outbreak has now spread to different provinces in the Philippines. (You probably haven’t heard that news bit yet because the Vhong Navarro story is taking up too much airtime.)
  • Many people are misinformed. If you believe you are safe from measles because you got vaccinated when you were a kid, you are part of this statistic. Sadly, no, you are not safe. Vaccine immunity against measles is projected to last about 20 years.
  • Some Filipinos are against vaccinating their children because it “might cause autism”. Instead of going into detail about why the measles vaccine doesn’t cause autism, I would like you to read an opinion piece I wrote for All Voices about measles vaccination and autism. After reading that article, you will either love me or hate me. Either way, I pressed a button – and, more importantly, I made you think.
  • Some parents believe that focusing on good nutrition alone is enough to improve immunity against the measles virus. “Let’s feed your child all the healthy food he needs and let’s put him right beside a child with measles. Let’s see what happens,” Dr. Montellano said. She wasn’t serious, of course. But you get her point.
  • The efforts of the Department of Health may not be enough. I give four reasons to support this allegation in this article on the measles outbreak.

My Message to Fellow Doctors

My dearest colleagues, if a parent drops by your clinic, it would be great if you took five minutes of your time to explain why the measles vaccine will protect the children. I can’t blame patients for being non-compliant to immunization recommendations if they do not even know what happens after their child gets sick with the measles.

Sadly, as far as many parents are concerned, measles is just “a rash that most children survive anyway”. As the professionals wearing the white coats, it is our responsibility as doctors to correct this misconception.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She maintains a health column in Health.Care Magazine and contributes to The Manila Bulletin. Add her to your circles.