Myths and misconceptions identified as threats to national health
Vaccinations save millions of lives worldwide on a yearly basis. Despite the progress of immunization efforts in the country, however, several factors remain to challenge the total success of such programs.
Based on the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey, six of ten children 12‐23 months (62 percent) were fully immunized; that is, they received the seven basic vaccinations before their first birthday. More than 90 percent of the children received first doses each of vaccines - DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetnaus), polio and Hepa‐B. However, same children will not complete the succeeding second and third doses required for the full protection and only 78% finishes the measles vaccination at 9 months old. . .. Rather than problems on resources and reach, challenge of completion of such programs is being stunted by the myths and speculations surrounding immunization.
Dr. Beaver Tamesis, Rosa Maria Nancho MD, Angel Jacob, DOH Secretary Janette Garin and Benjamin Co
“The emerging adversary of vaccination is not effectiveness—it is speculation,” said Dr. Benjamin Co, a Clinical Pharmacologist and Associate Member of the Pediatric Infectious Disease of the Philippines and Fellow of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS).
Dr. Co was a keynote speaker in a forum titled Usapang Bakuna held at Museum Café in Makati. He discussed vaccine myths and misconceptions alongside DOH Secretary Janette Garin and Society of Adolescent Medicine of the Philippines (SAMP) Adviser Dr. Rosa Maria Nancho.
The forum tackled vaccination myths and misconceptions as a nod to World Immunization Week, which runs from April 24 to 30.
“Understandably, vaccine safety receives more attention than effectiveness,” said Dr. Co. “But vaccines have an excellent safety record. As a matter of fact, you could argue that they are as safe, if not or safer than therapeutic medicines.”
He continued: “Misguided concerns (which are not grounded on science and research) distract the general public from pressing preventable health threats. This is proving to be a major obstacle in creating a healthier nation.”
No link between measles vaccine and autism
A now-retracted study linking MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine) to autism has been discouraging the vaccine’s uptake. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) described the 1998 study as an ‘elaborate fraud’ that altered the medical histories of all 12 patients that formed its basis.
According to Dr. Co, “Wakefield’s study has done long-lasting damage to health. But we need to remain focused on why vaccines were discovered and balance the benefits and risks of the disease, especially among children and the vulnerable community. As stated by the Measles Rubella Initiative, Measles is a leading cause of death among children around the world, with 400 dying every day.”
Based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no scientific evidence to support claims that measles vaccination may be a risk factor for autism. Additionally, studies have shown that immunization does not lead to permanent neurological problems.
Disproving the HPV stigma
HPV (Human Papillomavirus), a family of viruses, has two strains that are linked to 80 percent of cervical cancer cases. While there are two HPV vaccines (bivalent and quadrivalent) available in the market, their uptake is affected by existing stigma.
“Since HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, some parents do not consider vaccination as a necessity for their kids,” said Dr. Nancho. “But these vaccinations are recommended at a certain age (9 years old) because that is when they’re most effective.”
She added, “Pre-exposure vaccination (which means vaccination before the child is exposed) is a corner stone of successful immunization programs against the world’s cluster of preventable diseases.”
Mercury content has also been raised as a safety concern in vaccines, since some of them are formulated with the mercury-containing preservative thiomersal. However, DOH Secretary Garin was quick to point out that there is no evidence to suggest that the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses any health risks.
It is likewise a mistake to assume that vaccines are no longer necessary, as vaccinable diseases have disappeared in recent decades. According to Garin, the spike of measles cases in the country quickly refutes this claim.
She concluded, “The biggest problem here is that decisions on health are being made based on perceived risks, not supported by evidence. We have a responsibility to rid ourselves of all these misconceptions, especially when we are making decisions for our children.”