Gabriela Metro Manila stormed the head office of the Department of Health (DOH) in Manila today to hold the administrations of Benigno Simeon Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte over the Dengvaxia vaccination of almost 750,000 Filipino public school children from Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon.
The group aired fears over the anti-dengue vaccine that was administered to their children supposedly as part of government service a year ago, only for the French drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur to come out with a November 30 statement on its study that the vaccine was suited to those already had dengue and it presented risks to those who had not contracted the sickness. The vaccine were administered from to kids whether they had dengue or not.
Protesters slammed the government and Sanofi Pasteur for treating their children as guinea pigs and rats for experimentation of the said vaccine.
Gabriela Metro Manila tagged DOH as ‘Department of Hazard’ as they burned images of three mosquitoes with faces of Aquino, Duterte and former Health Secretary Janette Garin.
“Aquino, Duterte and Garin must be held liable over this Dengvaxia fiasco and for pushing our children to further danger,” says Cora Agovida, spokesperson of Gabriela Metro Manila.
Agovida noted that while the past Aquino administration should be mainly held accountable, President Duterte is also answerable to the people as the program pushed through under his term.
The vaccination of Dengvaxia was suspended last week.
Dengvaxia was the world’s first dengue vaccine. The Philippine government hosted the global launch of the vaccine on February 11, 2016, the only country where all three phases of the clinical development were conducted, and also became the first country where the vaccine became commercially available.
The vaccines were given to selected Grade 4 public school pupils. Dengvaxia was given in three doses six months apart through subcutaneous injection in the upper arm. Around 492,000 received the first dose in the first phase of the program from April to June 2016, with the government planning to vaccinate a million students.
Despite her hesitation to continue the program, then-Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, implemented the second phase from October to December 2016, with students availing themselves of it reduced to only 415, 681. The total number of students vaccinated under the government program reached almost 733,000 by this time; the data in private schools and those who availed of the commercially available vaccine not yet included in this data.
Meanwhile, health group Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said that the Aquino administration and the DOH maneuvered the P3.5 billion for a vaccine that now put 750,000 children at greater health risk.
They also said that the decision of the authorities to procure, approve its commercial release, and implement the mass vaccination, all in haste, was based on political consideration and not on sound science.
“Health groups and local experts have adamantly questioned all these beforehand but have fallen to deaf ears. A year after implementation, clinical trial results revealed that Dengvaxia causes severe dengue fever to those who have not contracted dengue before,” says Dr. Joseph Carabeo, HEAD secretary general.
The Philippine government spent P 3.5 billion for the purchase of the vaccine, with then-DOH Secretary Garin saying that the vaccines were acquired on a discounted price.
Senator Richard Gordon said the vaccines could have been funded by then-president Benigno Aquino’s controversial discretionary funds in the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Senators were now calling for a probe on the government’s ‘hasty’ dengue vaccination program.
Congressional inquiries were also held towards the end of 2016 to investigate the amount spent for the vaccine program and its target of one million kids when similar programs only included 20,000 to 30,000 children.
Gabriela Metro Manila also questioned the P3.5B fund allotted for the project and the timing of its approval and implementation. They said that the swift approval of the ‘overpriced’ project had been rushed for the 2016 election campaign.
HEAD called for the accountability of Sanofi Pasteur along with the DOH, Aquino, Duterte and Garin.
The group of health workers also urged the DOH to address the fears that this blunder have unleashed.
Dr. Carrabeo asked, “How should the vaccinated children be protected from now on? What measures will be done to monitor those at risk and provide them with the means of proper healthcare to mitigate the risks?”
On the other hand, HEAD urges parents and children who got the vaccine not to panic rather ask explanations from the government. They also suggest them to monitor health advisories and consult accordingly as a form of their right to information and healthcare.
“Immunizations generally remain to be an important tool for prevention. Service and patient safety must guide the discovery and eventual use of new vaccines, not politics and profit motives,” ended Carrabeo.
On November 30, Sanofi Pasteur said that the vaccine Dengvaxia is only safe and effective in the long run for people who have been infected with dengue before they were vaccinated.
“Based on up to six years of clinical data, the new analysis evaluated long-term safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia in people who had been infected with dengue prior to vaccination and those who had not. The analysis confirmed that Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection. For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” Sanofi Pasteur said in a press statement.