Vaccine scare makes Filipinos more vulnerable to spread of seasonal flu: expert

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2019 12:44 PM | Updated as of Jan 15 2019 05:33 PM

MANILA - The "fear" of being immunized has made Filipinos more vulnerable to the spread of seasonal flu, an infectious disease expert said Tuesday, days after the government warned that influenza cases are common this time of the year.

Only about "3 to 5 percent" of Filipinos availed themselves of anti-flu shots after a dengue vaccine allegedly led to the deaths of several children, said Dr. Rontgene Solante, chairman of San Lazaro Hospital's Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Department.

"When I ask some of my patients, offer them the vaccine, they will always inquire, 'Doc, is that safe?'" Solante told reporters.

"There was really an effect on the vaccine confidence because of the Dengvaxia," he said.

In November 2017, French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur admitted that its dengue vaccine Dengvaxia may worsen the effects of the mosquito-borne disease if given to patients who had never contracted the virus. 

The drug was blamed for the deaths of several school children who received it under government's vaccination program. Sanofi denied such link has been established, asserting that its drug was safe. 

In December, the Health department said immunization coverage nationwide dropped to 40 percent in 2018, from an average of 70 percent in the last few years.

"All of the vaccines were affected. Nothing was spared. Even non-vaccine programs like de-worming," Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo earlier said.

Solante said doctors should assure patients that there had been no reported deaths linked to anti-flu vaccines anywhere in the world.

"Nobody died of vaccines, but a lot died because they did not receive the vaccine and developed an infection," he said, noting that anti-flu shots have been in the Philippines for about 15 to 20 years.

"If the people with influenza and the healthy ones be given the vaccines, then probably we will not be experiencing this high number of cases," he said.