Malacañang open to return of Dengvaxia amid dengue alert

Pia Ranada
Malacañang open to return of Dengvaxia amid dengue alert
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo says the Duterte government will consider the controversial vaccine if experts attest it is safe to use

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang is open to making the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia available to Filipinos as the government struggles to address a surge in dengue cases.

“If the weight of findings show that there is benefit in using Dengvaxia against dengue, then certainly the government should consider it,”  Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview with reporters on Wednesday, July 31.

But he stressed the need to “thoroughly investigate” the safety and efficacy of using Dengvaxia. If experts can vouch for the vaccine, the Palace would not shut its doors to it.

“We’re always open to anything that will benefit the Filipino people. We’re not closed to any suggestion,” said the Duterte spokesman.

Panelo was responding to the appeal of former health secretary and now Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin for the government to allow the use of Dengvaxia in the Philippines, saying the rise in dengue cases would not have happened if the anti-dengue vaccination program was continued.

Garin had implemented the program when she was health chief under the administration of Benigno Aquino III. 

Some 837,000 Filipino gradeschoolers were already vaccinated before the vaccine’s manufacturer, French pharmaceutical Sanofi Pasteur, announced in November 2017 that Dengvaxia might lead a person to get severe dengue if he or she had not been infected by the virus before immunization.

In the aftermath of the Dengvaxia scandal, immunization rates across the country decreased. It led to an outbreak of the vaccine-preventable measles. (READ: A year after Dengvaxia: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar)

Aquino, Garin, and other former government officials faced complaints in relation to the controversy.

The Public Attorney’s Office had filed complaints before the Department of Justice linking the use of the vaccine to over 30 deaths, including that of a doctor who got the vaccine in 2016 and died in 2018 of community-acquired pneumonia.

The Department of Health (DOH) and several vaccine experts have insisted that there were no proven links between Dengvaxia and the reported deaths.

The DOH declared a “national dengue alert” on July 15 because of the alarming rise in dengue infections which had killed nearly 500 people this year as of July 6.

In regions like Mimaropa, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Northern Mindanao, the number had risen past the epidemic threshold or the critical number of cases required for an epidemic to be declared.

The government said there have been at least 106,630 dengue cases from January 1 to June 29, 2019 – 85% more than the 57,564 cases reported in the same period in 2018.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had earlier explained that dengue cases had been observed to peak every 3 to 4 years, with the last peak occurring in 2016. Given the pattern, the health department expected an increase in cases this year.– Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.