People jostle for a measles shot at the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City in the morning of April 21. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
Adults and children have been flocking the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City to seek measles vaccination as the fatalities on infected children have reached at least 123 nationwide.
The latest death figure includes three cases reported Monday from the north central province of Nghe An, where 158 children have been hospitalized for measles treatment since February and 85 percent of them were not vaccinated.
Nghe An health authorities have asked for seven more respirators and ten monitors to serve the rising number of patients.
Most of the deaths, 111, were reported from the Central Pediatrics Hospital in the capital while the remainders from other major Hanoi hospitals, as well as Hai Phong City and Yen Bai Province nearby.
Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said during her visit Monday to major Hanoi hospitals that the high death rate related to measles was because the patients were rushed into the Central Pediatrics Hospital in the first place, creating an overload.
“The children have to share beds, resulting in cross infection within the hospital.”
Tien also blamed the hot weather over the past two months for facilitating the spread of the virus.
A ministry report confirmed 3,430 measles cases nationwide as of last Sunday, besides more than 5,800 other possible cases in which the patients have developed similar symptoms.
In the southern half of the country where no measles deaths have been reported, people are rushing to Ho Chi Minh City for a protective shot.
The vaccination area of Pasteur Institute was crowded from 7 a.m. Monday, mostly with children more than two years old and adults.
It had to hang a canvas shadowing the front yard to provide the crowd a proper place to stand while they wait.
Among them are 23 people in one family from the nearby Dong Nai Province. A 53-year-old grandfather in the family has organized the trip for all members including his grandchildren after being alerted by reports of a possible pandemic.
Vietnam provides free vaccination shots to babies, the first one at their ninth month and the second at the 18th month.
While a number of parents were scared of the series of deaths related to the free Dutch made 5-in-one Quinvaxem from late 2012 and reluctant to have their children administered any vaccines including measles, others said they sought for the vaccine from early this year but were informed many times by local medical centers that stocks ran out.
Nguyen Tran Hien, chairman of the National Extended Vaccination Program, said the free measles vaccine is produced in Vietnam with Japan’s sponsorship. No severe shocks or complications have been reported from more than 100 million administered shots so far, he said.
Upon the measles spread, the government has designated medical centers to provide the free shots to children up to three years old but the rate has been low.
Other cases have to pay VND135,000 (US$6.41) for the three-in-one shot against measles, mumps and rubella.
The number of people seeking the chargeable shots at the institute has been surging the past days, from more than 120 on April 11 to nearly 450 on April 18, more than 600 the next day and more than 350 half the day later.
As Tuoi Tre reporter observed on Monday morning, around 120 people were administered their shots within two hours.
Dr Cao Huu Nghia, head of the clinical biology at the institute, said it provided 1,000-1,500 those shots a month in late 2013, but a lot more have come over from other provinces outside the city of late.
But Nghia said rushing to the institute or other places in the city is not necessary as measles vaccines, both free and chargeable kinds, are available at local medical centers.
He said the media and the health ministry need to inform people better.
He blamed the media and the ministry’s communication sector for “falling asleep” on measles, believing it is gone.
Many people as a result have not sought for vaccination until this year outbreaks, Nghia said, noting that vaccination during the time of outbreaks is not quite effective as the body’s immunity is likely to be compromised.
Huynh Minh Truc, director of the preventive health center of the Mekong Delta city Can Tho, said it provided an abnormally high number of the 3-in-1 shot in March – 530. The daily number has been increasing this month, to 170 last Saturday.
Truc said the center is likely to run out of the vaccine in a couple days.
Among the infections are many babies below the vaccination age, at nine months old.
Doctors advised that adults need to avoid bringing their babies to crowded areas, and remember to wash hands carefully and change clothes when coming home from outside.
Dr Truong Huu Khanh, head of the infection department at Children’s Hospital No.1 in Ho Chi Minh City, said if the mother was vaccinated as a child, her baby will hardly be infected with measles before nine months old.
Vietnam plans to eradicate measles by 2017.
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