Health dep't considering inclusion of meningococcal vaccine in immunization program amid fears of another outbreak

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) – The Department of Health is considering the possibility of including the meningococcal vaccine in the national immunization program to prevent more individuals from getting meningococcemia.

Pag-aralan natin [Let’s study it],” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum in Manila on Wednesday.

This comes amid the confirmed cases of the bacterial infection, causing fears of another outbreak of an illness with high mortality rate.

Duque, however, downplayed this concern, citing the insignificant attack rate of the disease.

“The attack rate is small, very, very small,” the country’s chief doctor said.

He confirmed that there have been four confirmed cases of meningococcemia from the period September 22 to October 4 of this year.

READ: 4-month-old baby is the fourth to die of meningococcemia

All other suspected cases are awaiting laboratory results although they are clinically diagnosed with meningococcemia, he noted.

He also urged the public to seek medical help once they manifest the clinical signs of meningococcemia such as headache, vomiting, stiff neck and petechiae or patches. He noted that it would be hard to treat the disease once it is in the serious stages.

"Mahihirapan na masalba ang buhay pag umabot sa ganun," he said

[Translation: It is hard to save a life once it [the disease] reaches the advanced stage.]

The illness caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria can kill in a matter of hours if left untreated. It is spread through direct contact such as when an infected person sneezes or coughs and another person catches respiratory droplets.

Included in the country’s expanded program on immunization are vaccines against tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles and most recently Japanese encephalitis. 

Dengue vaccine Dengvaxia used to be part of the country’s vaccination program in 2016, but it was ordered removed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in 2017. This was after Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur revealed that the vaccine poses a serious health risk to individuals who have not contracted dengue at the time of inoculation. By then, more than 800,000 school children have received Dengvaxia.

The national immunization program was established in 1976 to ascertain that Filipinos have access to recommended vaccines, and individuals may prevent contracting deadly infectious diseases.

Its goals are:

1. To immunize all infants/children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.

2. To sustain the polio-free status of the Philippines.

3. To eliminate measles infection.

4. To eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus

5. To control diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis b and German measles.

6. To prevent extra pulmonary tuberculosis among children.