Duterte open to Dengvaxia, but will wait for what experts say
President Duterte on Thursday said he was open to using the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine anew after the Department of Health (DOH) declared a national dengue epidemic with the number of people stricken topping 100,000 with hundreds of deaths.
“Yes, I am open to the use of Dengvaxia again. So many are dead, it’s an epidemic,” he told reporters in Malacañang.
It was the first time since the vaccine was banned in December 2017 that the President himself indicated that he might allow Dengvaxia to be used again. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said Malacañang was open to allowing its limited use.
Pressed for a definite answer on whether he would agree to its use, Mr. Duterte said: “I don’t know yet.”
He admitted that he was “in a quandary whether to allow Dengvaxia or not,” adding that he would “rather go on the side of science.”
“I want to hear the words of the experts, doctors. And we have enough bright people here to tell us,” he said. “I don’t need foreigners telling me. My own Filipino scientists and doctors will tell me what to do. I will be guided by their announcement.”
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had earlier turned down an appeal by some doctors, scientists and health professionals to allow even the limited use of the vaccine.
He cited the World Health Organization’s position not to recommend it for outbreak response and mass immunization without reliable tests on its effectivity.
The DOH stopped its massive dengue immunization program using Dengvaxia in late 2017 after its manufacturer, the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, said patients who had no prior exposure to the dengue virus could suffer severe symptoms.
More than 800,000 public school children had already been inoculated under the P3.5-billion immunization program, which began during the Aquino administration, by the time it was halted. Sanofi later reimbursed P1.16 billion to the government for the unused vaccines.
Western, alternative meds
Mr. Duterte said he was willing to tap both Western and alternative medicine if that could save people’s lives from the mosquito-borne disease.
“I’d rather go on the side of science. If nobody would believe me, still I would say if there’s anything there in the western medicine and even the herbals of the orientals, if it would be saving people’s lives, I’ll go for it,” he said.
Mr. Duterte recognized that the incidence of dengue cases has reached epidemic levels but declined to state categorically if he will allow the use of Dengvaxia.
He said his daughter, Veronica, had been inoculated with the vaccine.
According to the latest consolidated DOH report on the epidemic as of Tuesday, at least 622 people have died out of 146,062 stricken by the disease from January to July 20 this year.
The DOH said the figure was 98 percent higher than what was recorded during the same period in 2018.
Speaking at a news conference in Tacloban City on Thursday, Duque said Dengvaxia was intended for preventing rather than curing dengue.
“The impact that we need to achieve here is really to bring down the number of dengue fever cases reaching epidemic proportion,” he said.
“The protection of Dengvaxia, although low at 60 percent on the average, [is] not really that reassuring because it’s not a high reassuring rate. Magpaturok ka man, almost 40 ang may dengue,” Duque added.
Duque also cited the legal implications in the wake of the cases filed by the DOH against past and present DOH officials, as well as officials of Sanofi and its distributor, Zuellig Pharma Corp.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who led a Senate inquiry into the Dengvaxia fiasco, on Thursday called for caution about rushing to use the vaccine again.
He said Sanofi must also apply for a new license for the vaccine from the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), adding that the process by which the French company obtained its license under the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III “was questionable” and “tampered.”
He said former FDA chief Kenneth Hartigan Go gave the Dengvaxia distributor a five-year license without the one year provisional license to take care of the required number of patients.
Gordon also noted that the recommendations of the Formulary Executive Council to procure the vaccine in stages and not to buy in bulk were not followed.
“We should tarry a little and make the vaccine undergo the proper process for licensing first. Let’s see if they can now comply with the requirements,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, TINA G. SANTOS AND JOEY GABIETA
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