EACH vaccine is designed for a specific disease it is intended to fight. Taken into the body by injection or orally, the vaccine, using killed or weakened virus or bacteria, simulates the human body to fight back by creating anti-bodies that destroy the intruding disease agents. Then the anti-bodies remain in the body, ready to fight any new attack by the same disease.
We in the Philippines have long had various vaccination programs for children and mothers to protect them from so many diseases that reach our shores from other lands, including diptheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT), polio, hepatitis B, and measles. Dengue is among the later arrivals and in 2016, our health authorities moved to fight it with a mass immunization program for children.
They acquired a new anti-dengue vaccine – Dengvaxia of Sanofi Pasteur. There was no fund in the approved National Budget, but administration officials managed to realine available funds and produce P3.5 billion to pay Sanofi for its Dengvaxia. They proceeded to vaccinate some 800,000 students in three regions.
Then the problems began. Nearly a thousand of the children reportedly got sick and four died in Bulacan and Bataan.
After a few weeks, Sanofi announced its belated finding that Dengvaxia was good for those who had had previous bouts with dengue but was dangerous for those who had not. It was not a fully tested vaccine when it was sold to us and our officials had rushed to buy it, even juggling funds in the National Budget to raise P3.5 billion.
Now we have a number of children dying and while there is no direct evidence that the deaths were due to the vaccine, these were children who had been vaccinated. And weeping mothers and angry fathers who appeared before Sen. Richard Gordon’s Senate Blue Ribbon Committee cannot believe it is just coincidence.
The committee will seek to determine if there has been some misjudgment on the part of the officials concerned. Then Secretary of Health Janette Garin was blamed as the official who carried out the faulty program; Secretary Florencio Abad, for the release of funds even there was none specified in the National Budget approved by Congress; and President Benigno Aquino III, for his approval of the entire program, even meeting with Sanofi officials during trips abroad.
Some quarters see a political angle. They ask why so much public money for a new health program was released when the Aquino administration was nearly at an end; it was already the campaign period for the presidential election. There is also the usual suspicion of graft in cases involving such huge expenditures which are processed so quickly, so much faster than the usual process in government bidding and purchasing.
It is unfortunate that many parents are now wary of having their children getting any kind of vaccination. They should be assured that the long-established immunization programs, such as for DPT, polio, hepatitis B, measles, etc., are important for the nation’s health.
The Senate will try to determine responsibility for the Dengvaxia problem, but the people should know that this is a singular case and should not affect other ongoing immunization programs. And the government must continue its aid program for the suffering families and take steps to ensure that what happened with Dengvaxia will not be repeated in some future administration.