Editorial: Necessary caution

FOUR children in Cebu who had received the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia died from Jan. 26 to March 2, 2018, Department of Health (DOH) officials confirmed last Monday.

The four belonged to a group of 156 who were hospitalized after being vaccinated, out of a group of 162,000 who had received Dengvaxia in Cebu from August to December 2017. It was last December when the DOH, in response to new information from Sanofi Pasteur, suspended the dengue vaccination program. It also ordered the pharmaceutical company to pull Dengvaxia out of the Philippine market.

So far, the DOH has acted with the necessary caution and done its part in providing the public, especially worried parents, with information. It has put up “fast lanes” where children who fell ill after receiving Dengvaxia can be prioritized for diagnosis and treatment, and families can be assisted with their hospital bills.

To be sure, the DOH has plenty of other questions to answer. For instance, of the 162,000 who received Dengvaxia in Cebu last year, how many belonged to cities, towns or barangays where at least 70 percent had already tested positive for dengue fever? How many were seropositive, meaning they had had the dengue fever virus before, at the time they were vaccinated?

Those were the two conditions the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in a July 2016 position paper to guide countries that were considering the use of Dengvaxia. The WHO is set to release an updated position paper next month.

The four vaccinated children who died this year in Cebu had no traces of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) and Immunoglobulin M (IgM), which meant that shortly before their deaths, they were not suffering from acute dengue fever nor could they be considered carriers of the virus. In Metro Manila, a task force from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital has found that of 14 children whose deaths they had examined as of last month, three had contracted dengue fever despite having been vaccinated against the virus.

There is a marked difference in the quality of the discussion on Dengvaxia when health officials are given the lead, instead of non-experts who seem hell-bent on stoking other people’s anger and anxiety over the issue. While waiting for health officials to provide additional guidance, local officials in Cebu’s cities and towns would be well-advised to keep an eye on the children who’ve received Dengvaxia in their communities, consult health experts, and sustain other preventive measures against the public health menace that is dengue fever.
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