Abellanosa: Haunted by Dengvaxia

Fringes and frontiers

THE Department of Health (DOH), no less, declared a measles outbreak on February 7. Secretary Francisco Duque III said that the outbreak has gone out of the Luzon area, even reaching Central and Eastern Visayas regions.

Unfortunately many Filipinos are still in denial of the fact that this is a serious matter that the government must address. The best way to know, however, if there should be a reason to be alarmed is to check the figures. As disclosed by DOH no less, there are 575 cases with nine deaths recorded in Calabarzon compared to 21 cases in 2018. There are 441 cases with five deaths recorded in Metro Manila compared to 36 cases in 2018.

In Central Luzon, there are 192 cases with four deaths recorded, which means that there is a 500 percent increase compared to 32 cases in 2018.

In Western Visayas, there are 104 cases and three deaths recorded compared to 16 recorded cases in 2018. Finally in Central Visayas, there are 71 cases with one death, which is practically a 3,450 percent increase compared to just two cases in 2018.

It can be recalled that on February 2, 2018, over a year ago, Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo said, “that only about 60 percent of Filipino children are getting their scheduled vaccines, when the DOH’s annual vaccination rate target is around 85 percent.”

As early as then, DOH already noticed the decrease in the availment of government-sponsored vaccination. In the words of the Undersecretary himself, “we are down to 60 percent coverage, kasi dati gusto natin diyan mga 85 percent (because we usually want the figure at 85 percent). I don't know exactly [know] the exact figures but maybe by the end of the year, we’ll get a more exact figure. But the local experience right now is the uptake of our vaccination programs is really going down.”

A proximate event that contributed to this was the dengvaxia scare. True, there could be some understandable reasons then to doubt the effectiveness of the said anti-dengue vaccine. However, it really didn’t help that people were made to be afraid of vaccines in general.

Doing her best to save her face, PAO chief Acosta has now passed on the blame to DOH for not doing anything to promote vaccination. The PAO chief now insists that it is not the job of her office to promote vaccination. In her rare brilliance, Acosta denies her contribution to the increasing number of cases in measles.

It appears that either she has forgotten the things she pronounced over a year ago, or she was unconscious when she said those. While it’s true that parents were not explicitly discouraged from getting their children vaccinated, however, the dengvaxia scare shaped people’s minds towards suspicion. In the very first place, prudence should have been exercised given that some Filipinos are not that informed on the kinds and distinctions of vaccines.

This is the effect when people who lack the needed expertise would assert or use authority beyond their limitation. By passing judgments on matters that are supposedly for medical doctors to determine, the PAO has entered an unfamiliar terrain and thereby gave half-truths that are now damaging.

Public health is important. It is the duty of the government to ensure the people’s well-being in whatever way it should be promoted. Thus, while it must be regulated by politics, nonetheless it should not be politicized. This is not to say that it should not be subjected to regulation or legislation. However, the people and their right to a healthful living should not be a compromised by partisan bickering otherwise we would all suffer because of propaganda.

On a final note, science is important for the advancement of society. If used properly science can alleviate man from some if not many of his miseries. It is important for those who are in the practice of governance to also be scientifically informed. Many of our decisions and even laws are products of debates that merely draw insights from abstract arguments.

The dengvaxia scare is haunting us.


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