‘Panic’ over Dengvaxia harms other vital vaccination programs, health experts say

Mara Cepeda

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‘Panic’ over Dengvaxia harms other vital vaccination programs, health experts say
58 doctors & experts, in a statement, slam the 'unsubstantiated' claims being made against Dengvaxia and DOH officials that is causing parents to slowly lose faith in other government health programs

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 58 doctors and scientists, among them two former chiefs of the Department of Health (DOH), are dismayed that “unsubstantiated” claims over the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine is discouraging parents from availing of other government immunization programs for their children.

The statement was publicized on Tuesday, January 30, by a group of physicians led by former DOH secretaries Esperanza Cabral and Manuel Dayrit.

The doctors said they are “saddened, dismayed, and alarmed” how the controversy over Sanofi Pasteur’s controversial Dengvaxia dengue vaccine has turned into a “fiasco” that is eroding the public’s trust in the government’s other vaccination and health programs.

“The unnecessary fear and panic, largely brought about by the imprudent language and unsubstantiated accusations by persons whose qualifications to render any expert opinion on the matter are questionable at best, have caused many parents to resist having their children avail of life saving vaccines that our government gives,” said the doctors.

They said parents are now even wary of deworming programs for their children.

“If this trend continues, then we may find ourselves faced with outbreaks of debilitating and life-threatening diseases that we have already been able to control through our vaccination programs,” said the doctors.

“The only way to continue to prevent deadly epidemics of these infectious diseases is to sustain a high rate of immunization/vaccination in our population. This will not be possible if parents refuse to consent to vaccination for their children because of fear,” they added.

Parents are now concerned for the safety of their children who received doses of Dengvaxia through the now-suspended dengue vaccination program. (READ: What to do if your child received dengue vaccine)

The doctors’ statement seem to allude to the ongoing forensic examination the Public Attorney’s Office is doing on exhumed bodies of vaccinated children who later died due to various causes. It remains unclear if Dengvaxia had truly led to their deaths. (READ: Duque says most deaths in vaccine row ‘consistent with’ dengue)

The DOH has already tapped top doctors from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to assess the clinical records of another 14 dead vaccinated children to determine whether or not Dengvaxia influenced their demise.

The results of the PGH panel’s study is set to be released on Friday, February 2.

Former DOH chief Janette Garin launched the dengue vaccination programs in 3 regions in April 2016 even if clinical trials on the vaccine’s safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness were not yet completed at the time.

In November 2017, Sanofi said Dengvaxia may lead a person to develop severe dengue if he or she had not been infected by the virus prior immunization. This sparked congressional probes at the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Current DOH Secretary Francisco Duque suspended the program, but not before 837,000 got the risky vaccine.

DOH is now closely monitoring the health of all vaccinated children and has promised to cover their medical expenses should they be hospitalized due to dengue through the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

He also called on parents not to turn away from the government’s other free vaccination programs for their kids out of fear of Dengvaxia.

For the ‘greater good’

The group of doctors were also disappointed several DOH officials are being implicated in the Dengvaxia controversy.

“It is also with very heavy hearts that we have witnessed some hard working, competent, honest and dedicated physicians and career personnel in the Department of Health, systematically maligned and deprived of their right to defend themselves while those who can and should come to their defense have remained silent,” they said.

Former DOH consultant Francis Cruz have publicly accused several current and former health officials of operating the “DOH mafia” that supposedly had benefitted from the purchase and implementation of Dengvaxia.

Cruz, however, has not yet presented any documentary evidence to support his claims. (READ: Duque dares accusers to file cases vs officials in alleged ‘DOH mafia’)

Available documentary evidence that “might have been offered to prove the innocence of some of the accused has not been made public for reasons that we can only speculate on. The public hearings have become avenues for “expert bashing” rather than a genuine search for truth,” said the doctors.

They said they support Duque’s decision to temporarily stop the dengue vaccination program while the PGH is still completing their study. (WATCH: Duque talks to parents of kids vaccinated with Dengvaxia)

“We urge our colleagues in the medical profession to consider the greater good in all their statements and actions and to be careful about unfairly slandering colleagues by careless, sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations,” said the doctors.

They also hoped legislators will be more “open to hearing both sides” in the next House and Senate hearings on Dengvaxia to be held on February 5 and 6, respectively.

The statement was signed by the following doctors and health experts:

Esperanza I. Cabral, MD
Agnes Mejia, MD
Francisco Tranquilino, MD
Rafael R. Castillo, MD, MBA
Manuel M. Dayrit, MD, MSC
Gina Nazareth, MD
Sylvia Estrada Claudio, MD, PhD
Expedito Yala, MD
Salvacion R. Gatchalian, MD
Jay Ron Padua, MD
Josephine Anne N. Ng, MD
Cynthia A. Aguirre, MD
Pia Catrina T. Torres, MD
Cleo Anna Marie D. Pasco, MD
Maria Nicole Angela S. Perreras, MD
Cynthia Cuayo-Juico, MD
Margaret Lu-Fong, MD
Fatima Gimenez, MD
Mary Ann Bunyi, MD
Josefina S. Isidro Lapena, MD, MFM
Poria Grace Marcelo, MD
Evelyn A. Roxas, MD
Ester Penserga, MD
Nemencio Nicodemus, Jr. MD
Abdel Jeffri Abdulla, MD
Ma Dominga B Padilla, MD
Lourdes Bravo, MD
Charles Yu, MD
Junice Melgar, MD
Dante D. Morales, MD
Suzette H. Lazo, MD
Jonathan G. Lim, MD
Cynthia J. De Ocampo, MD
Josefina C. Carlos, MD
May B. Montellano, MD
Joanne N. de Jesus, MD
Michelle C. Cuvin, MD
Estrella Paje-Villar, MD
Delta S.A. Aguilar, MD
Ma Ines Bettina Santos, MD
Cecilia Montalban, MD
Mary Ann Bañez, MD
Patricia Manicad, MD
Cynthia I. Valencia, MD
Gerry Castillo, MD
Lara Aleta, MD
Lydia R. Leonardo, DrPH
Belle Siasoco, MD
Elmer Jasper B. Llanes, MD
Eugene Ramos, MD
Geminn Lois Carace Apostol, MD
Pio Renato F. Villacorta, MD
Ivan Villespin, MD
Greg Ocampo, MD
Venancio P. Garduce, Jr., MD
Isidro C. Sia, MD
Imee Mateo, MD
Jubert Benedicto, MD


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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.