A group of physicians on Friday rejected the proposal to lift the ban on Dengvaxia, saying the vaccine would not address the ongoing dengue outbreak, even as the number of infections continued to rise unabated.
In a press conference, Dr. Julie Caguiat, one of five doctors representing various medical groups, slammed drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur for lying to the public when it introduced the anti-dengue vaccine to the Philippines.
As hundreds die in the severe outbreak, many of them children, President Rodrigo Duterte said late Thursday he was open to lifting his government’s blanket ban on Dengvaxia.
The latest figures from the Office of Civil Defense posted Friday morning showed 11 more deaths and 5,322 new cases from 11 regions it was monitoring, bringing its totals to 492 deaths and 122,112 dengue cases.
The official Department of Health figures as of July 20 are at 622 dengue casualties and 146,062 cases over seven months this year.
This moved House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and his wife, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Romualdez, to purchase four fogging machines from their personal funds to augment the number of misting machines used in anti-dengue operations in Leyte.
They said the fogging machines would be made available for free to local government units that need help in mosquito fogging operations.
LGUs only need to make the request to municipal coordinators, the couple said, and the machines with insecticides would be deployed to the affected barangays.
Dr. Joshua San Pedro, a community doctor and co-convener of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health, said the DOH has failed to lead the “most important” phase of eradicating a “predictable” epidemic—prevention.
“DoH is reactive in its programs to strategically address preventable epidemic, like dengue,” he said. “On the ground, dengue prevention campaign, medical supplies and health personnel are sorely lacking.
Caguiat, secretary of the Community Medicine Practitioners and Advocates Association or Compass, objected to the return of Dengvaxia, saying Sanofi has yet to publish the full result of its phase 3 trial or complete pre-planned subgroup analysis and the complete documents for phase 4.
“They lied to the people before. Why should physicians and the people trust them now?” Caguiat said.
Former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. director Anthony Leachon said eradicating the breeding places of mosquitoes and a massive clean-up of schools, workplaces and communities is more effective than vaccination with a “potentially dangerous vaccine.”
Another health expert, Dr. Antonio Dans, suggested that if the government is considering re-introducing Dengvaxia, it should be done properly this time.
Manila prohibited the import, sale and distribution of the drug—manufactured by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi—after parents blamed it for the deaths of several dozen children who were among more than 700,000 people immunized in a state-run trial program.
After the Dengvaxia scare caused Filipinos to shy away from vaccines, the country was hit with measles and dengue outbreaks that have so far killed nearly a thousand people this year. The government declared a dengue epidemic on Tuesday.
While he was “in a quandary” regarding the use of Dengvaxia, Duterte said the perceived risk had to be weighed against the 662 deaths from out of the 146,000-plus dengue cases monitored by the government so far this year.
“Yes, I am open to the use of Dengvaxia again. So many people are dead. It’s an epidemic. Now compare it vis-a-vis, with those who died (allegedly due to the vaccine),” Duterte told reporters.
Dengue, or hemorrhagic fever, is the world’s most common mosquito-borne virus and infects an estimated 390 million people in more than 120 countries each year—killing more than 25,000 of them, according to the World Health Organization.
It said Dengvaxia is now licensed for use in 20 other countries.
The dengue-prone Philippines in 2016 became the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass immunization program.
But controversy arose after Sanofi disclosed a year later that it could worsen symptoms for people not previously infected by the virus.
The disclosure sparked a nationwide panic, with some parents alleging the vaccine killed their children, though a government-commissioned investigation found no conclusive proof that it did.
Nonetheless, Manila banned Dengvaxia and had Sanofi reimburse it for the vaccines used in the immunization program.
The controversy also triggered a vaccine scare that the government said was a factor behind measles outbreaks that the United Nations Children’s Fund said have killed more than 200 people this year.
“Me, I’d rather go on the side of science,” said Duterte, whose 15-year-old daughter was among those given Dengvaxia shots.
“If there’s anything there, in the Western medicine, and even these herbal or Oriental, if it will mean saving people’s lives, I’ll go for it.”
Before the government makes a decision, Duterte said he would like to “hear the word of the experts.”
Health Secretary Francisco Duque had said Tuesday that Dengvaxia was not recommended by the WHO for combating outbreaks, and in any case was not for children aged below nine who were the most affected in the current epidemic.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross Pangasinan chapter is encouraging qualified donors to give blood to meet increased demand this dengue season. Krismar Glen Brillantes, quality assurance officer of PRC Pangasinan, said there is a shortage of platelet concentrate in their blood bank.
Also, the chief of the National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said the fish locally known as “Kataba” or “Itar” can be used to control the mosquito population.
Dr. Westley Rosario told radio dzMM that dengue cases in Pangasinan went down to about 32 percent when the kataba was used as biological control agent against mosquitoes.
In Dagupan City where the center is located, cases were reduced to about 82-83 percent, he said, which can be replicated in other areas with high number cases of dengue. With AFP and PNA
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