Dengvaxia Fears: When It Will End?

The last public hearing in the Senate was filled with tears and emotions from the families of the alleged Dengvaxia victims.

We should understand their fears. The parents are helpless but they have to be stronger than before for their children. The question that badly needs an answer now with regards to the Dengvaxia fiasco in the Philippines is – “when the fears will end?”

While there’s an insinuation that Dengvaxia was the culprit of recent deaths of those who are vaccinated, maybe there is a need to dig deeper. Listening to the experts could help us understand more about the situation.

Dengvaxia Diagnosis Cannot be based on Autopsy

US Dr. Scott Halstead, an expert in dengue research, testifies in the Senate hearing. Photo Courtesy: Mr. Benjie Castro, GMA News

A US Dengue expert, Dr. Scott Halstead, testified in the Senate and firmly claimed that the diagnosis of Dengvaxia cannot be based on autopsy.

“There are a lot of autopsies being done now because, unfortunately, children die for one reason or another after vaccination. This is a very old phenomenon. I’ve been in the vaccine business forever and there are always problems like this,” Halstead said.

The expert disputed the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) position and the claims of its head, Atty. Persida Acosta that the autopsies they have conducted are directly linked to the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Halstead explained that there could be two things to be considered when a child dies after receiving Dengvaxia doses:

1. unequivocal evidence that the infection was caused by dengue virus, which can be done by either virus isolation or identification of NS1; and
2. knowing if the particular individual was given the vaccine when he or she was seronegative or seropositive.

Acosta earlier stressed that based on the autopsies conducted with the alleged Dengvaxia victims, they were signs of viscerotropism and neurotropism.

But Halstead stressed that “it is not appropriate to use the terms viscerotropism and neurotropism in relation to Dengvaxia. Viscerotropism is a medical term defining the effect on the body’s internal organs, usually the heart, lungs and liver; while neurotropism refers to the effect on the nerves. These terms are applied to Yellow Fever and not dengue.”

The announcements of PAO relating Dengvaxia to several deaths of children who are vaccinated created panic and hysteria among the parents and the population at large. It even affected the mass vaccination programs of DOH because many parents are now afraid to have their kids vaccinated.

DOH had warned the PAO against sowing fears by coming out with inconclusive statements.

DOH warns PAO vs sowing hysteria

“Irresponsible comments created unnecessary panic and scared the public from getting immunized,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.

However, PAO Chief Acosta said they are not be blamed but those who bought Dengvaxia for billions of pesos.

Nevertheless, Halstead insisted that people should not be afraid of vaccinations and those who were vaccinated by Dengvaxia should be monitored and given care.

“We don’t want people to feel vaccines are dangerous and maintained that Dengvaxia remains effective in protecting people who are seropositive for the dengue virus (those who have had dengue) but not effective in preventing the disease for those who are seronegative at the time of immunization,” he added.

Stop the Blame, Let Us Work On It Together

The problem is not only how to resolve all the worries and fears of the parents and the children who are vaccinated with Dengvaxia. Some government agencies apparently are not cooperating with each other to finally resolve the issue. The PAO is determined not to share with DOH the results of their autopsy.

Turf war: DOH seeks PAO cooperation in Dengvaxia investigation

On the other hand, DOH has been warned in sharing the master list of the children who are vaccinated with Dengvaxia due to privacy concerns. The said list could be helpful to PAO in assisting the victims.

NPC cautions DOH on sharing Dengvaxia master list to other agencies

DOH wants to take the lead in the investigation and in helping the families of the victims. It’s their mandate and we should “leave it to the experts.”

We should trust the government on dealing with this mess. All government agencies that could be of help must extend their hands for the sake of the victims. 

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