MANILA - A group of Filipino doctors and scientists on Tuesday called on their colleagues and lawmakers to "put public welfare above all else" amid the dengue vaccine controversy.
In a statement, the group of health professionals urged their colleagues to "be careful about unfairly slandering colleagues by careless, sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations."
This after a former consultant at the Department of Health (DOH) claimed that at least 18 incumbent and former officials profited from the government's controversial P3.5-billion dengue vaccine program.
The nationwide immunization program was halted early December a few days after Sanofi Pasteur, makers of Dengvaxia, the vaccine procured for the initiative, bared that the drug could cause more severe symptoms if administered on those who have not had dengue.
"We urge those who have documentary evidence that can truly shed light on the current controversy to please come forth with the truth. And we beg our legislators to be open to hearing both sides," the statement read.
"Allowing half-truths to prevail is dangerous. It not only causes persistent confusion but has also caused mass demoralization among the dedicated and hard working personnel and physicians of the DOH. This is both cruel and unjust. Finally, amid all the controversy, let us please always put public welfare above all else."
The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is set to reopen its investigation into the dengue vaccine on Feb. 5, while the Senate held a separate inquiry that began in December.
The group also lamented how their colleagues' statements have affected public confidence in the government's immunization programs.
"We, physicians and scientists who serve the country in various capacities and sectors, are saddened, dismayed and alarmed over the manner by which the Dengvaxia controversy has degenerated into a fiasco that has started to erode public confidence in the country’s vaccination programs and other public healthcare endeavors," they said.
"The unnecessary fear and panic, largely brought about by the imprudent language and unsubstantiated accusations by persons whose qualifications to render any expert opinion on the matter are questionable at best, have caused many parents to resist having their children avail of life-saving vaccines that our government gives."
The group urged the government not to remove controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia from the market for those who have been previously affected by the illness.
"In the same light, given the findings that persistent, long-term protection is given by the vaccine to those who have already gotten dengue infection, we urge the DOH not to remove the vaccine from the market altogether," they said.
"Already we are faced with patients who have had dengue infection in the past, who are now at a loss because they cannot get their doses of Dengvaxia because it has been taken out of the market."
The Food and Drug Administration last month ordered Sanofi Pasteur to suspend the sale of Dengvaxia after the French drug-maker admitted that it could cause a more severe case of the disease if the patient has not had dengue.
As of November, the vaccine has been given to about 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas, per government data.