“Have your children examined to know if he or she had previously acquired dengue. If not, seek audience with the Department of Health (DOH) and ask them for the full explanation on the possible adverse effects of the vaccine.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The implementation of the mass vaccination using the Dengvaxia was based on “political considerations” and not on sound science, said the progressive health group Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD).
Dr. Joseph Carabeo, HEAD secretary general, criticized the past Aquino administration for timing its meeting with the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur and closing the deal for the purchase and release of the vaccine shortly before the May 2016 elections. Carabeo said it was “good propaganda” for the Liberal Party’s standard-bearer Mar Roxas, but the implementation was premature.
On Nov. 29, Sanofi released a statement saying that a new analysis of long-term clinical trial data “found differences in vaccine performance based on prior dengue infection.”
It said that the vaccine has “persistent protective benefit” against dengue fever if the patient has contracted dengue before. Those who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia but have not contracted the virus could have a “severe case” of the disease once infected.
“Local experts have raised their disagreements about the administration of the vaccine but it was disregarded. The question then was ‘what’s the rush?” Carabeo said in a telephone interview with Bulatlat. . The study on the safety of the vaccine was still on-going at that time of the mass vaccination.
At least 700,000 children were given the vaccine.
Carabeo said responsible officials should be held accountable, from those who approved the procurement of the vaccines, up to the mass vaccination.
Meanwhile, he urged the parents of those who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia not to panic. He said the best thing to do is to assert the parent’s right to information.
“Have your children examined to know if he or she had previously acquired dengue. If not, seek audience with the Department of Health (DOH) and ask them for the full explanation on the possible adverse effects of the vaccine,” Carabeo said.
After Aquino’s meeting with Sanofi executives in Dec. 2015, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved the selling of the vaccine in the Philippines. Then Health Secretary Janette Garin said in Jan. 2016 that Aquino had approved the administration of dengue vaccine to one million children, aged nine years old and above, specifically in the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon and Calabarzon area.
The vaccine was worth P3.5 billion ($69 million), the funds for which was sourced from the sin tax revenue.
The quick turnover was “unprecedented” said Carabeo, that only a few months after the introduction of a new vaccine it was administered immediately to students in April 2016.
In a television interview, public health expert and former health undersecretary Dr. Susan Pineda-Mercado said when she was working in the government then, they were careful in introducing new vaccines to the public. She said the hepatitis vaccine took years of study before it was included in the DOH vaccines for children. She worked with then Health Secretaries Juan Flavier and Alberto Romualdez.
Addressing the problem
Carabeo said vaccines can prevent severe illnesses, but he stressed that Dengvaxia is a new vaccine and it should be implemented with precaution.
He added that experts advised not to give the immunization in a massive scale. “It can be given to a small population with precaution, like having the laboratory tests before giving the immunization,” he said.
Since the vaccine would have more benefits to those who have history of contracting the disease, the patient’s medical history should also be reviewed. There is also serological test that can be conducted to determine if the patient has already contracted dengue.
Only after these that the DOH, or the doctor ask for the consent of the parent for the immunization.
In a press conference with the Malacanang Press Corps on Monday, Dec. 4, DOH Spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said that only 10 percent of those who were vaccinated of Dengvaxia will most likely be at risk of severe dengue.
Still, Carabeo said the DOH still has to address the problem.
“How should the vaccinated children be protected from now on? What measures will be done to monitor those at risk and provide them with the means of proper healthcare to mitigate the risks?” he said.
Carabeo, meanwhile, stressed that they are not against the discovery of a new vaccines. However, the patient’s safety should be prioritized.
“Service and patient safety must guide the discovery and eventual use of new vaccines, not politics and profit motives. The Aquino administration, former health secretary Garin, and the institutions involved must be held accountable,” he said.
Featured image from the Getty Images
Read also: What is severe dengue?