OPINION – Sanofi Pasteur has just experienced its greatest reversal with its Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine in the Philippines.
Way back in 2015, the Philippines planned and adopted a school based Dengue immunization campaign that was actually implemented in the 1st quarter of 2016. This according to former Department of Health Secretary Janette L. Garin was already in the pipeline for implementation because of the prevailing dengue crisis at that time which saw dengue incidence rise to 200,000 cases in 2013 and 2015.
Rewind to 2014. Dengue must have been a great issue for health organizations around the world. Malaysia for the 1st time saw a 159% rise in Dengue incidence climbing to 108,698 reported cases, of whom 45,653 were reported hospitalized and 215 dying in 2014. Fiji, a small island in the Pacific with a population of only 885,806 reported a massive 10,000 cases with 11 deaths. Pakistan had just experienced its worst Dengue crisis in 2013 with over 17,000 cases reported all over the country, the highest in Pakistani history. China reported its highest incidence of Dengue with a jump in those being infected in the thousands in a just a few days. Honduras, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Japan and India also reported a rise in their respective dengue incidence. It was no wonder that the World Health Organization had made not of the increase in dengue incidences. Even Bill Gates took notice and launched an anti-mosquito info campaign called mosquito week under his Belinda & Bill gates foundation. He called the mosquito the deadliest animal in the world killing over 725,000 humans yearly worldwide.
Back to 2015, Sanofi launched a vaccine which they had been studying for over 23 years with over 40,000 participants would be available in the market to combat the dreaded dengue disease. The WHO welcomed this and provided its members guidelines. The Philippines is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dengue has been in the Philippines since 1926 with subsequent major outbreaks in 1953, 1966 (the Great Manila Epidemic), 1998 were over 32,000 cases and 500 deaths recorded. From 2000 to 2009 a steady yearly increase in cases were reported until 2010 when the cases saw a tremendous 140% increase breaching the 100,000 mark with over 700 deaths (WHO figures were at 799 deaths) being reported. The succeeding year 2011, the Philippines ranked 4th in ASEAN with almost 130,000 cases nationwide according to the WHO. This affliction on our country only increased thereafter where 2013, 2015 and 2016 marked the highest recorded incidents and cases of Dengue reaching the 200,000 cases mark in 2013! At this point, we were already number 1 in the Western Pacific Region as identified by the WHO when it came to the prevalence and incidence of Dengue. And guess what the data showed, all through these years, the most afflicted segment of our society are those aged 5-14 years old with the highest recorded deaths of 1,021 in 2016. So, did the Philippines have at that time the luxury to wait? Or did government officials have to act and act swiftly when a vaccine was made available? The history of Dengue outbreaks would defend their decision to act in the manner they did. Find a solution and implement it!
In July of 2016, the WHO came out with additional guidelines on immunization. By then, President Duterte had assumed the helm of leadership with Secretary designate Paulyn Ubial as DOH Secretary. By then over 450,000 school children had already been given an initial dose of the Dengvaxia vaccine by the previous administration in the targeted high prevalence areas in the country. She initially stopped the school based immunization program and had it reviewed by a panel of Filipino experts. However, for her confirmation hearings in congress, she resumed and even expanded the program transforming it into a community based immunization health program where all controls were lost contrary to the WHO guidelines. According to Ubial, she was pressured by Representative Gwendolyn Garcia to expand the program in her bailiwick of Cebu where an additional 200,000 children were to be vaccinated. Ubial would never become Secretary as the powerful Commission on Appointments had rejected her. Word has it that President Duterte was displeased with her performance and never lifted a finger to move for her actual appointment to the post. In studying the numbers, based on the administered dosages, it was Ubial who really propagated the immunization program and furthermore expanded it to areas outside of the initial pilot areas based on WHO guidelines.
Where does the conspiracy lie now?
The conspiracy lies in the fact that when investigations on Dengvaxia were undertaken by the Public Attorney’s Office as assigned by the Department of Justice, acting on a complaint from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, they have manifestly excluded any participation of Secretary designate Ubial in: 1) the complaint; 2) the investigation on deaths and 3) in their media announcements as it is highly likely that some of the alleged victims may have been vaccinated during her stint at the DOH. The Public Attorney’s Office has shown its partiality by even threatening current Secretary for the death occurring in Cebu when it was actually Ubial who had expanded it to that area.
The PAO has even refused to share its autopsy findings to the panel of UP-PGH experts established by the DOH who found inconclusive evidence of any death resulting from the Dengvaxia vaccine. Every now and then PAO would report that people who were vaccinated died of Dengvaxia. The impression given by the unqualified reports is that the vaccine had something to do with the deaths. But truth be told, nothing as of yet has been medically established conclusively and without an iota of a doubt that the deaths are even remotely related. The PAO has often repeated a well made mantra, a conclusion that all the deaths they have autopsied were related to Dengvaxia. Never had they announced that the deaths were of any other causes apart from dengue.
Later on, Dr. Erwin Erfe the medico-legal of the PAO would ADMIT on national television that his findings were INCONCLUSIVE. This despite the previous announcements of PAO Chief Persida Acosta charging the Administration of President Benigno Aquino and his officials for the deaths. After much public outcry for the actions of the PAO, Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre admitted that Dr. Erfe should NOT be believed as HE IS NOT AN EXPERT because he is not a pathologist!
If there was anything that PAO and the VACC achieved in their media tirade, these are: 1) all free government immunizations are down by 30% even for polio and measles. The PAO and VACC created panic among the populace which may result in a health crisis. 2) The case that may be filed by the Philippine government against Sanofi may have been weakened.
What of the charges of corruption by Senator Richard Gordon? Former DOH Undersecretary Dr. Ted Herbosa, a bidding committee expert and head of the DOH PBAC during the time of Secretary Ona said there was NO EVIDENCE OF CORRUPTION. Having seen the weakness of his arguments, Gordon said the two administrations are liable for the mess.
The true conspiracy in the Dengvaxia controversy is slowly unravelling for the public. It is a conspiracy to pit the current President Rodrigo Duterte against former President Benigno Aquino. Malacanang has recognized this and already chimed in with the calls for sobriety from former DOH Secretary Janette Garin and current Secretary Francisco Duque III, who both want to save the DOH. The experts need to be on top of the situation and we must listen to them and not at hasty suppositions and inconclusive declarations!
According to World Health Organization and DOH data, dengue cases went down to 131,827 cases in 2017 from a high of 200,000 the previous years.
The questions that confront us now are: what was all the media hype for; and, is PAO Chief Acosta and Dr. Erwin Erfe deserving of tax payers money. The Filipino people will be the judge.
#DengGate #Dengvaxia #DOH #Dengue
This is an opinion piece. Facts can be gleaned from the following verified resources.