Deng­vaxia ‘scare’

Sun.Star Pampanga - - OPINION -

A POLARIZED setup com­bined with mea­ger knowl­edge can be bad for ef­forts to come up with an ob­jec­tive ap­praisal of is­sues. It can also make the pub­lic vul­ner­a­ble to the kind of dis­in­for­ma­tion fed by fa­nat­ics and trolls on­line. Con­sider the re­cent stir cre­ated by the ad­mis­sion by the dengue vac­cine man­u­fac­turer Sanofi that its prod­uct, Deng­vaxia, can pro­vide pro­tec­tion only to those pre­vi­ously in­fected with the dis­ease. Those not pre­vi­ously ill with it can end up hav­ing “more se­vere dis­ease.

But be­fore one jumps to con­clu­sions and en­gages in blame throw­ing, here are some back­grounders.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) con­sid­ers dengue af­flic­tions world­wide (note: the prob­lem is not limited to the Philip­pines) as a global epi­demic, thus its in­ter­est in the de­vel­op­ment of a vac­cine, which it con­sid­ers as part of its global dengue preven­tion and con­trol strat­egy. Deng­vaxia, man­u­fac­tured by Sanofi Pas­teur, was the first dengue vac­cine to be ap­proved and was reg­is­tered in Mex­ico in 2015.

WHO then rec­om­mended the in­tro­duc­tion of the dengue vac­cine but only in ar­eas where epi­demi­o­log­i­cal data show high rate of af­flic­tions. Eleven coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Philip­pines, re­sponded to it. The Philip­pines launched the vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram in April 2016, or three months be­fore the term of then pres­i­dent Noynoy Aquino ended.

The De­part­ment of Health (DOH), which was then headed by Janette Garin, bud­geted P3.5 bil­lion for the pro­gram, which first tar­geted three re­gions with the high­est num­ber of dengue cases at that time: Metro Manila, Cen­tral Lu­zon and Cal­abar­zon. The vac­cines were given to se­lected Grade 4 pub­lic school pupils. Deng­vaxia is given in three doses six months apart through sub­cu­ta­neous in­jec­tion in the up­per arm.

Around 492,000 re­ceived the first dose in the first phase of the im­mu­niza­tion from April to June 2016. De­spite her hes­i­tance to con­tinue and ex­pand the pro­gram, the first Health sec­re­tary un­der the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, Paulyn Ubial, im­ple­mented the sec­ond phase from Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber 2016, with stu­dents avail­ing them­selves of it re­duced to only 415, 681. By then, the num­ber of vac­ci­nated chil­dren had risen to 733,713.

Af­ter the Sanofi an­nounce­ment, the DOH, which is now un­der Fran­cisco Duque III, sus­pended the vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram. He said that fur­ther moves by his de­part­ment would de­pend on the rec­om­men­da­tions that will be re­leased this month by the WHO’s

ad­vi­sory body called the Strate­gic Ad­vi­sory Group of Ex­perts. This I would say is the pru­dent move instead of the scare re­ac­tions and blame throw­ing we are hear­ing to­day.

What I am say­ing is that not all data on Deng­vaxia are still out and even the in­for­ma­tion that has come out so far, like the Sanofi ad­mis­sion, need ad­di­tional de­tails and clar­i­fi­ca­tions. It would be wrong to rely only on the line that the vac­ci­nated chil­dren could end up with “more se­vere dis­ease.” Is the vac­cine that bad or hope­less?

As for the blame throw­ing, the pro­gram is a con­tin­u­ing one, mean­ing it strad­dles both the Aquino and Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tions. Politi­ciz­ing the mat­ter won’t work.

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