By Mario B. Casayuran and Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola
The Senate Blue Ribbon and Health Committees pressed the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday to adopt measures to contain the hysteria building up following the deaths of schoolchildren who were reportedly given Dengvaxia shots before the 2016 elections.
Senator Richard Gordon, Blue Ribbon committee chairman, issued the call at the resumption of the public hearing yesterday on the P3.5-billion purchase of Dengvaxia vaccines and their administration to school children after the end of the school year without passing through the World Health Organization (WHO) requirements.
Gordon said the DOH should be prepared for violent reaction of people following the Dengvaxia mess and contain the hysteria.
But doctors and medical experts present at the hearing yesterday allayed the fear of parents saying there is no reason to panic as tests have yet to prove the link of the deaths to Dengvaxia.
“There is no basis to panic as of now. Based on our calculations, from the results of the clinical trials, it is safe in general,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lansang of the University of the Philippines.
Lansang stressed the reported deaths of those who were administered with the vaccine should not trigger panic, since the government-formed investigative task force has yet to release its findings whether or not Dengvaxia worsened their dengue disease.
“There is a minimal risk that it enhanced the disease of those injected, but we can address this by very prompt health-seeking,” Lansang added.
Dr. Juliet Aguilar of the Philippine General Hospital, on the other hand said dengue infection may be prevented through a “total clean up” of surroundings to get rid of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
Aguilar said a person may still acquire dengue whether or not they were vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
Dr. Cecilia Lim, one of the only two forensic pathologists in the country, underscored that tests and procedures must be followed and completed “to get the complete picture of what happened.”
Lim said there are standards in performing autopsies which may be questioned before the court. However, she noted the law does not specify who is authorized to conduct the procedure.
The UP-PGH last Friday released its initial findings of the 14 Dengvaxia-associated deaths where they found that three children died of dengue. The experts, however, are still conducting their tests to determine if Dengvaxia aggravated their illnesses.
Lawyer Persida Rueda-Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office was not present for the third time in yesterday’s hearing along with PAO Forensic director Dr. Erwin Erfe prompting the committee to issue a subpoena to compel the two to attend the next hearing.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, whose child was vaccinated with dengvaxia shared Gordon’s fear of panic among parents as it might affect the entire immunization and other health programs of the DOH.
He clarified that he is not stopping the PAO from conducting its own autopsy on supposed Dengvaxia victims but urged the agency to coordinate with other experts so that the Philippines could present an air-tight case once it files a suit against Sanofi Pasteur, a Paris-based pharmaceutical firm that manufactured Dengvaxia.
“Their findings will be very significant. What we want is – the government agencies have to work together. That is what I don’t understand, why does the PAO refuse to talk and coordinate with experts? We are not all experts here, but there are certain disciplines that require expertise,” Ejercito added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque confirmed that the Dengvaxia controversy has affected the entire DOH immunization program.