Gov't must campaign for vaccination programs as Dengvaxia scare lingers

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2020 01:38 PM

MANILA - The government must exert more effort in its vaccination campaigns not only for the eventual COVID-19 vaccine but for its other immunization programs that have seen a decline after the Dengvaxia controversy, a health reform advocate said Saturday.

“Nanggaling ang takot na 'yan sa sad story natin sa Dengvaxia fiasco. 'Yun minadali, safety issue 'yun. Hindi dumaan sa medical community, diretso sa DepEd (Department of Education),” said Dr. Tony Leachon, referring to the anti-dengue vaccine that was reported to cause severe symptoms when administered on those who have never had the mosquito-borne disease. 

(That fear emanated from the sad story of the Dengvaxia fiasco.That was a safety issue, they rushed it. It did not go through the medical community but straight to DepEd.)

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The Dengavaxia controversy in late 2017 led to the halt of the nationwide vaccination program. Several cases are pending against those behind the program, but drug maker Sanofi Pasteur denied it had caused deaths among inoculated children. 

A survey conducted on September 17-20, 2020 by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that 66 percent of adult Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, while 31 percent said they would not get the vaccine.

“Kung 66 percent ang gusto nilang pumayag at 33 percent 'yung hindi, malaki-laki pa ang kailangang vaccination campaign natin kasi even sa measles at pneumonia nagkaroon ng halo effect 'yung Dengvaxia controversy doon sa ibang bakuna kaya nagkaroon tayo ng surge sa measles, ng polio na eradicated na for so many years," he said. 

(If 66 percent are willing to be vaccinated and 33 percent are not, there is a need to do more about the vaccination campaign as the Dengvaxia controversy has a halo effect on measles, pneumonia and other vaccines that’s why there was a surge in measles, in polio-diseases that have been eradicated so many years ago.)
 

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The government stopped its nationwide dengue vaccination program and pulled Dengvaxia off the market in late 2017 after Sanofi warned that the vaccine might cause severe symptoms if given to those who did not have prior exposure to the mosquito-borne disease.

Last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raised concern over the dropping immunization coverage in the Philippines. It said that some 2.9 million children are at risk of contracting life-threatening disease.

Meanwhile, Leachon said the government is well prepared to implement the COVID-19 vaccine, as late-stage trials by various drug makers showed encouraging results. 

The DOH hopes to vaccinate some 50 to 60 percent of the population from the original plan of 20 percent. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government plans to prioritize certain sectors before expanding coverage. 

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He said that if it was up to him, he would prioritize the use of vaccines developed by either Pfizer or Moderna.

Pfizer said the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with its German partner BioNTech SE showed 95% efficacy in the final results from the late-stage trial. The experimental drug from Moderna Inc. also showed roughly the same effectivity rate.

“Ako confident ako. Magpapabakuna agad ako nito, kung ako tatanungin n'yo. Kasi may track record ang Pfizer at itong Moderna bilang reference countries kasi,” he said.

(I am confident. I am willing to be vaccinated. Both Pfizer and Moderna have a track record as reference countries.)

For the vaccines to be used in the Philippines, they must first be assessed by a panel of experts, then an ethics board, and then the Food and Drug Administration. 

Even with progress on vaccine development, the former government adviser still strongly urged the public to continue observing minimum health protocols as the pandemic persists.

“Hindi tayo dapat mag drop ng guard natin kahit nandyan na 'yung bakuna,” he said.

(We should not let our guard down even if a vaccine is already made available.)

As of Friday, the Philippines has reported a total of 415,067 COVID-19 cases, of which 375,237 have recovered and 8,025 died.