MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday defended Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Rueda-Acosta as the latter drew fire for supposedly eroding public trust on vaccines due to her pronouncements against dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Acosta has taken the cudgels for parents whose children died supposedly after receiving Dengvaxia shots. PAO, representing the parents of the deceased children, has filed charges against former and current health officials, as well as the Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, one of those charged by PAO, urged Acosta to stop making "baseless" allegations, saying her remarks have caused "serious damage" to Filipinos' vaccine confidence as seen in the rise in measles cases.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said as a lawyer, he understands where Acosta is coming from.
“You know, the PAO chief, as a lawyer, is defending or pursuing a theory that favors her clients. In other words, she is pursuing an advocacy. I cannot be blaming her for that,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“As far as she is concerned, she is doing her job of protecting the parents of [children who] she perceived to be dying by reason of Dengvaxia.”
Panelo said Acosta did not politicize the Dengvaxia issue, arguing she may be “impassioned with her advocacy with respect to her clients, the families of the victims, that you cannot blame her.”
Panelo, nonetheless, admitted that the fear surrounding Dengvaxia has eroded public trust on other vaccines long proven to be effective.
“Even if we do that as lawyers, we are confronted with the realities that our position may affect and impact negatively on the general public,” he said.
“If she feels her advocacy has affected the people into not believing on immunization, including immunization from other illnesses, then she should do something about it,” he added.
Acosta said she shouldn't be blamed for the low immunization turnout, as it was not her office's responsibility to promote vaccination.
'VIGOROUS' IMMUNIZATION CAMPAIGN
Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a “vigorous campaign” to promote the complete immunization for children as the health department reported measles outbreak in various parts of the country.
Officials blame the Dengvaxia fiasco for the unwillingness of some parents to have their children vaccinated.
“He said the Department of Health should do something about the outbreak. Secretary Duque said we are already doing something,” Panelo said.
“Of course he was saddened. The President is always affected by any negative outcome that relates to children.”
An outbreak of measles, first declared in Metro Manila and Central Luzon, was also observed in another Luzon region and 2 areas in Visayas, which tallied an increase in cases of the disease, the health department said Thursday.
The outbreak declaration has been expanded to Calabarzon, Western Visayas, and Central Visayas, the agency said in a statement.
The wider outbreak declaration aims to "strengthen surveillance of new cases and alert mothers and caregivers to be more vigilant," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters.
As of Jan. 26, Calabarzon tallied 575 measles cases and 9 deaths, said DOH.
Meanwhile, Western Visayas had 104 cases and 3 deaths and Central Visayas had 71 cases and 1 death.
Metro Manila logged 441 cases and 5 deaths while Central Luzon had 192 cases and 4 deaths, DOH said.
This contradicts data from San Lazaro hospital in Manila which recorded 55 deaths since January, with most of the fatalities aged 3 months to 4 years old.
The health department needs to validate reported deaths before including these in the tally, said Duque.