MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte decided to create a 3-man panel of Asian experts to study whether the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine is deadly, Malacañang said on Tuesday, May 8.
"The President, after much discussion, said that he will create a 3-man panel of experts – all Asians, no Westerners – and he will be bound by the findings of these 3 experts on the issue of whether or not Dengvaxia actually caused deaths," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a press conference on Tuesday.
Roque said that while there have already been findings by an expert from the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) and also a panel of experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Duterte "is constrained to seek further advice."
"The problem of the President is, although there is a finding of a PAO expert and there is the PGH panel of experts' finding, as a lawyer and former prosecutor, he knows that expert witnesses can cancel out each other's testimonies," explained Roque, who is also a lawyer.
"In effect, he said that with conflicting testimonies from the experts from the PAO and PGH, he is constrained to seek further advice from disinterested parties," he added.
Dengvaxia maker Sanofi earlier hailed the vaccine as a breakthrough in combating dengue, which kills hundreds of people in the Philippines, mostly children, every year.
But the company set off a panic when in November it said a new analysis showed the vaccine could lead to more severe symptoms for people who had not previously been infected with dengue.
Doctor Lulu Bravo, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, earlier said, "What PAO is doing is trial by publicity and sensationalism. It is scaring the gullible and producing irreparable damage to the health system and the society in general. How I wish they will sober up and we can sit and discuss all issues in a more academic and reasonable manner." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.