MANILA - Former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III defended the government’s COVID vaccination program that kicked off during his stint as DOH chief, from observations that it could be linked to the excess deaths in the country in 2021.
Excess deaths are unusual mortality increase during a specific period in a given population.
During Tuesday’s briefing before the House Committee on Public Order and Safety and the House Committee on Human Rights, Duque attributed the excess deaths recorded in 2021 to untreated chronic illnesses and COVID-19 infections during the height of the pandemic.
“There is no evidence, your honors, that the increase in deaths in the Philippines was somehow linked to the vaccination program. Closer examination of those deaths clearly shows that most of them were from chronic illnesses, while a few were from undetected COVID-19,” the former health secretary said.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Edsel Salvana also believes that COVID vaccination has nothing to do with the excess deaths in 2021, noting that the increase in mortality started “prior” to the COVID immunization program, and that deaths fell after the vaccine reached most of the population as seen during the entry of the Omicron variant.
“When we locked down, we stopped all out-patient services and all elective surgeries. So these people, hindi nila nakikita ‘yung doctors nila, because hindi kaya ng healthcare system natin, they started to not feel so well, that’s why we started to see more deaths from cardiovascular disease, from hypertension, diabetes and stroke,” Salvana explained.
“About 180,000 deaths that we saw in excess were actually very well documented from hypertension, cardiac disease, stroke, malnutrition, and then there’s also missed cancer screening. Siguro another 60,000 as a balance were COVID deaths. (25:07) If you had severe COVID and you were not admitted to the hospital, the risk of death was 100%,” he added.
The DOH recorded nine COVID-19 vaccine-associated deaths out of the more than 78 million fully vaccinated Filipinos. It also monitored more than 10,000 serious adverse events following immunization, but a study needs to be conducted to confirm whether they are linked to the COVID jab.
House Committee on Public Order and Safety Chairperson and Santa Rosa City Representative Dan Fernandez, meanwhile, raised concern on the proposed amendments to the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations.
“The amendment of this article gives the emergency committee the authority to overrule the decision made by sovereign nations… We will be under their rule… Martial law ba ito? We will have no say anymore. Sila na ang magde-desisyon. Mabigat ito… Seven days from now the period of amendments will be lapsing,” he said.
DOH representatives assured the panel they will work with Fernandez’s office in countering the questioned provisions of the proposed amendments.