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Pertussis waning but remains a lethal threat, says Health chief

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The Philippine College of Physicians raised alarm over the rise in pertussis or whooping cough cases nationwide, as the Department of Health said it would prioritize the protection of the vulnerable population against the disease.

The DOH said a total of 568 pertussis cases with 40 deaths were recorded as of March 16. About 393 of the cases are below one year old.

To address the highly contagious respiratory disease, the PCP cited the importance of vaccination, early detection, and appropriate treatment.

“This would prevent the spread of pertussis and protect vulnerable populations from its potentially severe complications,” the doctors’ group said in a statement.

“The PCP fully supports the DOH’s call in promoting enhanced vaccination campaigns nationwide to increase vaccination coverage and protection of all infants and children to vaccine preventable diseases,” it said in a position paper.

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“We urge all stakeholders, healthcare providers, local government units, and community leaders to collaborate in preventing the spread of pertussis and other vaccine preventable infections including measles, diphtheria, influenza and pneumonia,” it added.

The DOH issued an advisory amid reports that free booster shots for children aged 5 and above, adolescents, adults, and pregnant women are not available in health centers.

“In a situation with limited resources, the DOH is choosing to protect the most vulnerable first and is open to exploring ways to make access to the vaccines easier for the other population groups,” the department’s statement read.

“Choosing to focus vaccination efforts on the youngest (as early as 6 weeks of age) and with a multi-purpose vaccine (e.g., pentavalent which protects not just against pertussis but also diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza B) gives multivalent protection to this age group and as they grow older,” it said.

The DOH said pertussis can be treated with antibiotics and may last four to 14 days. Apart from vaccination, it can be prevented by covering coughs and sneezes, and through regular and proper handwashing.

In a Senate hearing yesterday, Health Secretary Dr. Teddy Herbosa said whooping cough is more of a problem for kids below 5 years old.

He also related that the majority of the cases the DOH had monitored were children below one year old. He admitted many of the susceptible are unvaccinated children.

Herbosa appealed to parents  to have their children jabbed with the pentavalent vaccine.

Pertussis starts as a mild cough and cold that lasts about two weeks, and is followed by paroxysms or fits of coughing that lasts up to six weeks.

DOH Undersecretary Eric Tayag earlier said up to 1 million vaccines to be procured through the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund are expected to arrive in June.

He said more than P8 billion has been allocated for the procurement of all types of vaccines “for the Filipino people.”

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