Editorial : Tackling measles outbreak with composure

【明報專訊】AMID outbreaks of measles in places like Europe, America, Japan and the Philippines, infection cases in Hong Kong have also surpassed normal levels in recent months, resulting in a scramble for vaccines and some clinics raising injection fees to take advantage of the demand.

The viruses of measles are highly infectious. It is estimated that before the mid-20th century 2.6 million people died of measles every year. Following the advent of vaccination against measles in the 1960s, the threat posed by measles reduced dramatically. According to the World Health Organisation, around 90,000 people died of measles in 2016 in the world, marking the first time that the number of cases per year had fallen below 100,000. The WHO estimates that vaccination reduced the death rate of measles globally by 84% between 2000 and 2016. Over the past two years, measles has become prevalent again, which is closely related with anti-vaccination sentiments in Europe and the United States. Social media has become a platform for disseminating misinformation, causing many people to wrongly believe that "vaccination is harmful" and prevent their children from being vaccinated. In Rockland County, a suburb of New York, US, which has entered a state of emergency recently due to an outbreak of measles, only 73% of people under the age of 18 are vaccinated. It is exactly why the WHO has earlier listed anti-vaccination as one of the ten threats to public health.

The definition of an "outbreak" of a disease is rather loose. According to the WHO, if the number of cases of infection of a particular disease is noticeably higher than normal in a particular place and a particular season, there is an outbreak of the disease. Last year there were only 15 measles cases over the whole year. In comparison, there have been over 30 cases in the first three months of this year, which is abnormal. According to the Department of Health, many people confirmed to have contracted the disease have been to the airport recently, either leaving Hong Kong for travelling or coming back from regions where there has been an outbreak. Also infected are pilots of other nationalities and people working in the airport.

All of a sudden, many people have been scrambling for vaccines "for their own peace of mind". The supply of vaccines has become strained instantly. The news that vaccines are out of stock in clinics has in turn deepened the worry that "the spread of the disease is unpreventable", triggering a vicious spiral of the scramble for vaccines. The truth, however, is that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people either have received vaccinations or have antibodies. According to the Centre for Health Protection, 98% or more of people from all age groups in Hong Kong above the age of five have antibodies against measles, while the percentage for the one to four age group is 95%. In other words, the likelihood of a family member contracting measles from a foreign domestic helper is in fact not high unless there is an infant under the age of one or a family member who has never received vaccination against measles.

Caution against the spread of disease is necessary, but over-reaction should be guarded against. Given the short supply of vaccines, it is necessary for the government to come up with ways to increase supply. The real problem facing Hong Kong today is not about vaccines, but about public sentiment. To calm people's nerves, the government should enhance its means of disseminating information to prevent unnecessary panic in society. Citizens should stay calm rather than fear their own shadows.

明報社評2019.03.29:合理合度應對麻疹 不能大意不要恐慌







composure : the state of being calm and in control of your feelings or behaviour

advent : the coming of an important event, person, invention, etc.

disseminate : to spread information, knowledge, etc. so that it reaches many people

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