Manila, Philippines — Controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia is hugging the headlines in the country anew, with doctors and scientists urging the government to lift the ban on the Sanofi-made vaccine following the doubling of dengue cases in the Philippines this year.
Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed dengue has already claimed the lives of 561 people as of July 13. Nationwide, the number of dengue cases rose to more than 130,000, nearly doubling the 67,690 recorded in the same period last year with 367 deaths. Children aged 5 to 9 were the most vulnerable with about 30,000 cases year-to-date. From July 7 to 13 alone, the DOH recorded 8,295 cases already.
Western Visayas, which includes the provinces of Negros Occidental, Capiz, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo and Guimaras, had the most incidence with 18,943 cases and 95 deaths.
With the alarming rise in dengue cases, the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare (DTPW) said it is high time the government lifted the ban on Dengvaxia.
“The Philippines has the highest incidence and death rate from dengue in this part of the world. Yet it is the only country in the world that has banned it,” Dr. Minguita Padilla, DTPW co-convener, was quoted in a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Led by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, DTPW is composed of physicians, scientists, educators, former secretaries of health, and past and present heads of various professional medical associations and nongovernmental organizations.
“The vaccine need not be included in the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) of the government so that [the] government need not spend for it. But at least make it available to physicians to offer for the millions of patients who can benefit from it,” Padilla said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) canceled the certificates of product registration (CPRs) of Dengvaxia last February due to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc.’s alleged disregard of the agency’s rules and regulations.
One month later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 19 health officials and drug executives for the deaths of children who received Dengvaxia shots.
Garin was the DOH secretary in the tail end of the Aquino administration when the P3.5-billion mass dengue immunization program was implemented by the government.
They were charged for “inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight” and because they “totally disregarded the identified risks and adverse effects of the vaccine”.
Former President Benigno Aquino III said the Dengvaxia issue was just used to demonize the former administration and that the rise in dengue cases would have been avoided if the program was continued.
“The thing that could have protected the health of our citizens cannot deliver anymore because of politics and a lot of bad motivation,” Aquino said in a report of the Philippine Star. “The protection that could have been given to a lot of people was not given… It is like a scandal and an alarm. If there are people who were killed, they should be held liable.”
Aquino, who was also investigated for his role in the controversy, is turning the tables on his detractors, saying those behind the plot to scare away Filipinos from the use of Dengvaxia should be held accountable.
It was actually President Duterte’s Spokesman Salvador Panelo who first floated the idea of allowing the use of Dengvaxia in the country again in response to the rise in dengue cases.
“If we know that Dengvaxia could be used for seropositive patients, then why don’t we try it? We will just consider it. We have to make a study. As I said earlier, it needs, requires a serious study before we can use it,” he told reporters. “Why not use Dengvaxia for those who already had dengue before? Because it would surely work there. Mine is only a suggestion. But didn’t they say that the dengue cases are worsening? We need a vaccine for that.”
Photo Credit: PhilStar / Kriz John