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.