Duque: 'Not appropriate' to declare emergency health crisis for students who got Dengvaxia

MANILA, Philippines – Should the Department of Health (DOH) declare an emergency health crisis for students who got the risky Dengvaxia dengue vaccine? Health Secretary Francisco Duque III warned lawmakers that such a move would not be “appropriate” as doing so may cause widespread panic.

“It may not be appropriate to declare because if we did that, we might spawn fear and more uncertainties and this can be quite unsettling for parents,” Duque told lawmakers during the DOH’s budget briefing at the House of Representatives on Monday, September 3.

This was Duque’s reply as Nueva Ecija 4th district representative Megan Antonino and Davao 1st district representative Karlo Nograles – represented by Bulacan 1st district representative Jose Sy-Alvardo – asked the DOH about the possibility of declaring an emergency to ensure students who got the dengue vaccine were assisted with health concerns.

Responding to this, Antonino claimed there were “studies,” which projected deaths of about 100,000 to 200,000, which Duque said was far from the truth. (READ: What to do if your child received dengue vaccine)

Malayo po sa katotohanan 'yan (That is far from true)…. You would have expected 100,000 deaths by now if Dengvaxia really caused the deaths…. Groups push that theory but there is also a respectable group saying that is not the case,” he said. (READ: No need to panic over Dengvaxia-linked deaths – Duque, UP-PGH experts)

The health secretary also told lawmakers fears on immunization had already resulted in “collateral damage” to health programs such as the DOH’s measles immunization program.

Duque said only 30% of its target population of 2.4 million children were vaccinated in the aftermath of the Dengvaxia controversy. Measles cases soared and outbreaks were likewise declared by the DOH in early 2018.

What should be done? Duque said what was more important was to make sure hospitals were ready to respond to patients’ needs instead.

“The important thing is our hospitals are ready to manage hospitalized Dengvaxia vacinees. If the need arises, the response will be quick. That is the objective of the express services,” Duque said as he noted 98% of patients who were hospitalized with dengue recovered.

“It is not a perfect system but we continuously call on our hospitals to be ready to respond to the need of the Dengvaxia vaccinees,” he added.

Last March, the DOH teamed up with associations of hospitals to put up dengue express lanes in both public and private hospitals.

Under the agreement, member hospitals of the Philippine Hospital Association, Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Incorporated, Association of Hospital Administrators, and Philippine Medical Association put up “one-stop-shop express lane, table, or room” to cater solely to the needs of children who got Dengvaxia.

Duque reiterated the DOH remained committed to profiling the over 890,000 students who got the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.