Infections jumped by more than 1,000 percent in metropolitan Manila, the densely packed capital of more than 12 million people, in January compared with the previous year.
About half of the 136 who died of measles were children aged one to four, according to officials. Many of those who lost their lives had not been inoculated.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Monday a massive immunisation drive that started last week in Manila and four provincial regions may contain the outbreak by April.
“No ifs, no buts, no conditions, you just have to bring your children and trust that the vaccines … will save your children,” Duque urged parents. “That’s the absolute answer to this outbreak.”
In a televised message on Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte warned of fatal complications and urged that children be immunised.
Duque said a government information campaign was helping restore public trust in the authorities’ immunisation programme, which was marred in 2017 by controversy over an anti-dengue fever vaccine made by French drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur which some officials linked to the deaths of at least three children.
The Philippine government halted the anti-dengue immunisation drive after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine may increase the risks of severe dengue infections. More than 830,000 children were injected with the Dengvaxia vaccine under the campaign, which was launched in 2016 under then-President Benigno Aquino III. The campaign continued under Duterte until it was stopped in 2017.
“It seems the faith has come back,” Duque said of public trust on the government’s immunisation drive, citing the inoculation of about 130,000 of 450,000 people targeted for anti-measles vaccinations in metropolitan Manila in just a week.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which can be spread through sneezing, coughing and close personal contact.
Complications include diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis – or the swelling of the brain – which may lead to death.