MANILA - The Department of Health was "not strong enough" to fight the vaccine scare that led to the resurgence of polio in the country, a former health chief said Tuesday.
"When there were already a lot of vaccine mistrust, the DOH was not strong enough to come out and say those are fake news. Those are not true," Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin told ANC's Early Edition.
"In vaccination, once you hit one vaccine, you hit all. That’s why we were very clear in coming out and saying please don’t do this."
Last week, the DOH announced that the country has recorded its first cases of polio after 19 years of being declared polio-free.
The Philippines' first polio cases since 2001 came after vaccinations in the capital plunged to 24 percent of the target numbers in June from over 77 percent in 2016, partly due to mistrust stoked by controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Garin was health secretary when government, then under President Benigno Aquino III, launched a nationwide dengue immunization program in April 2016, inoculating children across the country with Dengvaxia.
The former health chief said the most vulnerable to polio are the very young and the very old.
"Because your immunity is lower. Kaya nga ang masakit dito sa polio, kung sino yung may sakit mas madali silang mahawa (What's painful is those who are sick are easily infected)," she said.
Garin said government could eliminate the illness in the country within 5 years at the earliest if it "works aggressively."
She added that there was "no such thing as vaccine overdose."
"If your immunization schedule is delayed you can always catch up," she said.
Polio, which can cause paralysis and even death and has no cure, could be prevented by vaccine and proper maintenance of hygiene, according to Garin.