THE move to consider again the use of the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia should also address the need to correct the people’s fear of immunization.
Following the Dengvaxia scare of 2017, people had second thoughts or even refused to have their children vaccinated of any kind. There is now the need to make Filipinos immune to the fear of vaccination and this can happen only through government assurances and education of the public.
If the government decides to make Dengvaxia available again in the market, it should be with the understanding that lessons were learned from the vaccine scare and Filipinos were educated about the benefits and risks of immunization.
Former health secretary and now Rep. Janette Garin (Iloilo, 1st district) has called on the government to allow again the use of Dengvaxia in the Philippines to stem the rise in dengue cases which, she said, would not have happened if the anti-dengue vaccination program were continued.
In 2017, the Department of Health (DOH) decided to suspend its P3-billion dengue vaccination program in light of new analysis that the vaccine, Dengvaxia, was more of a risk than prevention. The analysis showed that the vaccine could cause severe dengue fever to those who have not been previously infected with the virus. This was the opposite of what the vaccine was supposed to do. Thousands of children were already given the vaccine when the program was suspended.
That decision to suspend the program led to panic as parents and schools feared any form of immunization. The result was that the country’s immunization rate went down drastically and there was an outbreak of the vaccine-preventable measles.
As reported by the DOH, there were 130,463 dengue cases, including 561 deaths, from Jan. 1 to July 13, 2019 alone. This is higher than the 67,690 cases, including 367 deaths, recorded during the same period in 2018. Cebu topped the list of provinces with the highest number of dengue deaths and cases across the Visayas and Soccsksargen.
This time, the government is saying it might be good to have their children injected with the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Wednesday, July 31, 2019, the government is open to making Dengvaxia available if experts say the vaccine will prevent dengue infection. His statement was in answer to Garin’s appeal.
DOH officials and dengue virus experts have denied there was a link between Dengvaxia and the deaths that cropped up following the vaccine scandal. Even doctors, the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare in particular, are pressing the government to lift the ban and bring the vaccine back to the market.
Allowing again the use of Dengvaxia would not only address the rise in dengue cases and the number of deaths. It would also answer the fear of the public of immunization.
A decision to resume Dengvaxia use should be based on lessons from the 2017 scare and the result of thorough study. There should be no second mistake when it comes to public health.