Iloilo faces rabies vaccine shortage amid bite surge

Capitol | File photo

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor and Mariela Angella Oladive

The Iloilo Provincial Health Office (IPHO) is concerned about a potential shortage of rabies vaccines as animal bite cases rise in the province.

IPHO data show that in the first quarter of 2024, the province recorded at least 14,632 cases of dog and cat bites.

As of June, the IPHO reported three rabies-related fatalities from the towns of Pototan, Dumangas, and Alimodian.

In 2021, animal bite cases numbered 40,183, rising to 46,308 in 2022 and 72,805 in 2023. There were 12 human rabies cases in 2021, four in 2022, and five in 2023.

“The vaccines we allocate in our animal bite treatment centers in rural health units (RHUs) and hospitals will never be enough. Even though we are releasing a bulk supply of vaccines, it is still not enough due to the continuous uptick in our cases,” said IPHO head Dr. Maria Socorro Colmenares-Quiñon.

She emphasized that supplies in RHUs and hospitals are running dangerously low due to high demand.

“Our supplies in RHUs and hospitals are running very low, forcing others to purchase their rabies vaccines because our stock depletes quickly. Whenever we provide them, they run out almost immediately,” she said.

Meanwhile, the IPHO has allocated PHP 3.5 million to purchase additional anti-rabies vaccines.

The IPHO head appealed to pet owners to not let their pets wander without a leash to avoid biting incidents and to strictly follow the provincial ordinance on responsible pet ownership.

Under the ordinance, an individual cannot keep an unvaccinated dog or cat as a pet, and registration of domesticated pets is compulsory.

If a pet injures someone, the registered pet owner must compensate the victim for all medical and hospitalization costs, including costs for specimen examinations if the pet is suspected of being rabid. The victim is also entitled to compensation for any income loss during hospitalization.

The provincial government of Iloilo has made significant progress in combating rabies, achieving a vaccination coverage of 79 percent.

As of mid-May, the Provincial Veterinarian Office reported a vaccination coverage of 79 percent, or 256,310 out of a 324,764 canine population in the province.

Of the 43 towns in the province, Tigbauan, Tubungan, Alimodian, and Cabatuan achieved a 100 percent vaccination rate.

In November last year, the provincial government announced its goal to declare the province rabies-free by 2026, moving the target up from 2030.

In 2019, the province’s anti-rabies vaccination rate was 22 percent but dropped to 11 percent in 2020. The rate rebounded to 49 percent in 2021 and continued to rise, reaching 76 percent in 2023.

Dr. Rodney Labis from the IPHO disclosed that in the first quarter of this year alone, the province recorded over 14,600 animal bite cases, primarily involving dogs and cats. These cases were attended to at 17 Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTCs) and 13 district hospitals across the province.

Earlier this year, the provincial government allocated PHP 5 million for rabies vaccine procurement, but this funding was quickly exhausted.

An additional PHP 3.5 million has been earmarked for more vaccines, which are still awaited.

Currently, health units are operating with limited stock, relying on 1,500 vials donated by the Department of Health (DOH) on June 6, 2024.

“Even with substantial vaccine procurement in the past, we still experience stockouts. Currently, we have a pending procurement of PHP 3.5 million worth of rabies vaccines that will soon be facilitated for delivery to rural district hospitals. However, this may still not be enough for our patients accessing the animal bite centers,” Dr. Labis said.

Additionally, he mentioned that they have lobbied rural health units and district hospitals to procure their own vaccines to support their operations.

“What we promote, aside from allocating a higher budget for rabies vaccines, is for our local government units (LGUs) to promote responsible pet ownership and implement their ordinances to lessen the number of animal bite cases,” Dr. Labis stated.

Meanwhile, Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. highlighted the importance of strategic budgeting and targeted vaccination efforts.

“We will prepare our supplemental budget. Our target must be precise, much like our approach to COVID-19. We cannot afford to vaccinate everyone, so our beneficiaries must be correctly identified and prioritized,” he said.