December 12, 2017, 8:39 am
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Dangerous

EVERY once in a while, we Filipinos are jolted with bad news that concerns the health of thousands of our people, especially children.

Take this one -- last week’s clarification by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur that their Dengvaxia vaccine is dangerous for recipients who have not had any exposure to the dengue virus.

It would have been just a benign announcement had not the Philippines embarked in 2015 up to 2016 a massive dengue vaccination program among some 730,000 public school pupils nine years old and above. Health and school authorities are clueless on how many of those vaccinated had previous exposure to the dengue virus.

Media and medical professionals who have done even a cursory research on the issue easily saw the ruse, that this latest scandal is as much a health problem as it is an issue about graft and corruption.

Years before, Dr. Tony Leachon of Philhealth and his group of physicians had been warning the government then led by President Benigno Aquino III, that mass vaccination of Dengvaxia to the tune of P3.5 billion is inappropriate, misdirected, inopportune, and smacks of corruption.

Leachon pointed out that in an earlier investigation by the Senate committee on public accountability or Blue Ribbon committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, it was established that Sanofi even paid a member of the committee that passes judgment on the efficacy of the vaccine, in return for a favorable recommendation.

Leachon also said the huge funding allocation for P3.5 billion or SARO passed the Department of Budget and Management in less than two weeks, and the procurement process was fast-tracked.

The most serious transgression was done by previous Department of Health officials who implemented the mass vaccination without regard to clinical requirements of ascertaining the health status of recipients.

Acting with dispatch, new Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who has not even warmed his seat, announced the suspension of the vaccination program two days after drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the vaccine could worsen the effects of the disease on those who have not been exposed to the dengue virus.

The health secretary said experts from the World Health Organization are scheduled to discuss Sanofi’s disclosure later this month. Meanwhile, Sen. JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health, said he will conduct a public hearing on this issue, mostly likely in tandem with the Blue Ribbon Committee, by January 2018. By then, experts from the DOH and the WHO will have a definitive stand on the controversial health issue.

Meanwhile, it is accurate to say that all these officials are acting “after the fact,” and millions of parents are rightfully worried that their kids have been put in harm’s way by the very health officials paid to protect them.

In China during the milk contamination controversy, the highest health official responsible was executed. It is important for us to see through this problem to its logical end, and to implement the accountability rule seriously.
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