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DOH considers UP-PGH findings as primary 'evidence’ on Dengvaxia

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) will be relying on the findings of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) for official data on the deaths of children vaccinated with the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.

Undersecretary Enrique Domingo was asked on Friday, February 2, which between the two ongoing studies on the Dengvaxia-related deaths will the DOH be relying on: The one by the UP-PGH Dengue Investigative Task Force or the exhumation and forensic examination by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO)

“So in this case, definitely the PGH expert panel handled it very, very well – beyond even all the expectations of the Department of Health. We were surprised at how scientific and how thorough the evaluations were. And at this point, this is the evidence that we are taking into consideration,” said Domingo.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III had tapped the UP-PGH to conduct an independent analysis of the clinical records of 14 vaccinated children who died due to various causes after participating in the now-suspended school-based dengue vaccination program.

The goal of the task force will be to determine if Dengvaxia had, in any way, influenced the children’s deaths.

So far, the UP-PGH doctors said 3 of the 14 children died because of dengue despite immunization, 9 perished because of other diseases they developed after getting the vaccine, while the causes of death of the last two children remain unknown. 

The panel, however, cannot determine yet if Dengvaxia itself had caused the deaths. (READ: Kids’ vaccination rate down to 60% after Dengvaxia scare – DOH)

The PAO, meanwhile, has partnered with the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption to exhume and autopsy the bodies of another 14 dead children.

PAO forensic consultant Dr Erwin Erfe said he has seen a “pattern” in his autopsies, with the children’s organs enlarged and with internal bleeding or hemorrhage. He said the kids’ symptoms also occurred within 6 months after getting a shot of Dengvaxia. 

Like the UP-PGH task force, Erfe cannot say yet if the deaths were caused by the vaccine.  

Senator Vicente Sotto III already doubted the PAO’s capability to conduct an effective forensic examination during the first confirmation hearing of Duque before the Commission on Appointments.

A medical study done right 

On Friday, UP-PGH forensic pathologist Dr Maria Cecilia Lim explained internal bleeding is not a unique condition for dengue cases.  

“Hemorrhage is not specific to dengue. Even the enlargement of organs, we see it in a lot of conditions,” said Lim in Filipino.

She cited several conditions that can leave a body with hemorrhaging organs, like broncho-pneumonia, heart attack, and even chest compression.  

“So there are a lot of conditions. You have to consider everything before you give a diagnosis,” she said.

UP-PGH expert panel head Juliet Sio-Aguilar explained it is also standard practice in medicine to compare and correlate different test results to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. 

“You have to be thorough… Even after you see the body, examine the body, you look at the microscopic cells of this patient, they would have to review and correlate. Tama ba? Ito ba ang naging pattern no’n?… Compatible ba ‘yong nakikita ko sa findings ko na objective? (Is this correct? Is this the emerging pattern?… Is this compatible with my other objective findings?)” said Aguilar.

UP-PGH director Dr Gerardo Legaspi said this was why it took the task force some time before they were able to announce their initial findings.  

So nando’n na po tayo sa era na hindi puwedeng maging credible ang ating sinasabi, as I said, kung hindi ang standard ay international. Kaya po namin nilabas ‘yon dahil marami hong data ang task force pero nakita niyo rin na ang recommendation ay ituloy pa ang study,” said Legaspi.

(We are in that era where you’re statements cannot be considered credible if they aren’t based on international standards. That’s why we released the findings, even if the task force still has a lot of data to process, so you can see that our recommendation is to continue the study.)

The DOH is willing to share the UP-PGH’s findings to the DOJ, of which PAO is an attached agency, to help in its ongoing investigation into the dengue vaccination program.

But PAO chief Persida Acosta is not keen to do the same for DOH, arguing there is already a “conflict of interest” as it was the department that had implemented the controversial program. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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