Cabaero: Counteracting vaccine fears

TURNING out to be as important as investigating the failed dengue vaccination program of government is the need to calm parents’ fears over any type of immunization of their children.

Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo said last week that, as an effect of the dengue vaccine controversy, parents were refusing to get their children vaccinated for polio, chicken pox and tetanus. Even the deworming campaign held every January and July to benefit students and children of poor families had a “very low” turnout. Deworming does not entail an injection, just a tablet taken by a child.

It is fear of anything from the Department of Health (DOH) that is making these parents cautious about allowing their children to take a deworming tablet or their immunization shots for preventable diseases.

This anxiety should be countered with assurances from the DOH and the medical industry that their fears are misplaced, that their children’s protection from preventable diseases takes priority over the dengue vaccine dispute, and that the death of 14 children were not found to be directly linked to the vaccine, Dengvaxia.

It all started when the DOH suspended last December its P3-billion dengue vaccination program after a new analysis showed that the vaccine was more of a risk than a prevention. The conclusion was that Dengvaxia could cause severe dengue fever to those who have not been previously infected with the virus. But the 14 deaths reported could not be directly linked to the vaccine developed by French company Sanofi.

Knowing the far-reaching effect of this development, health officials should have considered that the controversy would raise unfounded fears over other vaccination programs. Now that there is confusion, the government health sector must act fast to educate the public on how the other immunization programs are different, and assure parents there are mechanisms for them to complain should their children get sick after vaccination. Use government resources and the media to let parents know that DOH programs would have to continue for the sake of the children and community.

Domingo said, “It’s really hard for them. The parents are really afraid, but this doesn’t mean that we should be paralyzed with fear.”

As to the investigation, the DOH will have to ensure the procedures are followed and those that only contribute to the panic are stopped. Reports showed how the exhumation and autopsy on the children by non-experts only add to the chaos. The good thing is that other medical experts are volunteering their services to hasten the investigation.

Then, there are the investigations of the Senate and the Public Attorney’s Office that will not help if there is no resolution and if what the parents see are government people passing the blame on others and seeing how much the pharmaceutical company should pay.

Assuring panicky parents is now a priority of the government health sector.
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