Botched dengue immunization program angers parents, worries experts
It’s the perfect time to say “I told you so” and “It’s too late.”
Health experts are saying they were right after all in opposing the early implementation of an antidengue immunization program and parents are worried and angry about the dangers that lie ahead for their children who had received the vaccine whose manufacturer said could do more harm.
“We advised the Department of Health (DOH) leadership then, the Congress and Senate that mass vaccination is not advisable without a rigid selection or serological testings,” said Anthony Leachon, a member of the DOH expert panel on dengue formed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s predecessor, Paulyn Ubial.
Leachon said the medical status of more than 700,000 children who had been vaccinated in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon is unknown since they were not checked for prior exposure to the dengue virus.
On Wednesday, pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur admitted that its Dengvaxia vaccine could cause more severe cases of dengue for those who had not been previously infected.
“We will need massive surveillance program to track them,” Leachon told the Inquirer in a text message.
“It means some of them will develop severe dengue, we don’t know who. All of them will have to live with this possibility for the rest of their lives,” he added.
The DOH suspended the vaccination program on Friday and ordered the close monitoring of everyone who had been vaccinated.
Health Secretary Duque, however, assured that Dengvaxia has a 30-month protection period for those who had been vaccinated, whether the person was previously infected or not.
The news spread on Friday, angering parents whose children had been vaccinated.
Razel Segovia Cablao of Malabon City has two daughters, aged 9 and 11, to worry about. They received Dengvaxia just five days before Sanofi released results of its study.
Cablao, whose daughters have not had dengue before, told the Inquirer they got the shots in the house-to-house vaccination project of Barangay Potrero.
“My husband and I thought we could have some peace of mind knowing our daughters would be free from sickness, then you find out that they’re actually at a greater risk just because (the DOH) did not vet their vaccines properly,” Cablao said.
She worried about getting the second and third shots for her daughters after several online reports said doing so would expose them to greater risks.
Aissah Andrada’s 11-year-old son got his first shot in October at the barangay’s health center in Pasig City.
“This could have been prevented if only the DOH did not rush implementing their program not knowing the full risks,” said Andrada, who is from Cainta, Rizal province.
Both mothers said their children have not been stricken by any serious illness so far. They plan to consult other physicians regarding the risks of completing the shots.
They wanted the DOH to release guidelines on what parents should expect and what they could do to minimize the risks for their children.
“The children should not be made to pay for the DOH’s failure,” Andrada said.
Esperanza Nocum’s 14-year-old son received the vaccine back in August when local health center personnel gave free dengue vaccine shots at their barangay hall.
The 41-year-old mother from Caloocan City said she already had plans to have her son vaccinated so he would be healthy and safe from diseases, including dengue, which he has not had. The boy was born with a heart condition and had undergone a heart surgery.
She said she had planned to take him to a private pediatrician for vaccination but it would have cost her P4,000.
“So we grabbed the opportunity offered to us, and since it was from the Department of Health, I thought it was trustworthy,” Nocum said.
However, after Sanofi made the announcement, she couldn’t help but fear for her son.
“I thought I could have peace of mind since he is already vaccinated,” she said. “I am so dismayed. What would they do now that the vaccine is already in my son’s body?”
She said at least 100 children were vaccinated along with her son.
Like the other parents, Nocum was concerned about whether to get the next Dengvaxia dose scheduled for February. —WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING, JHESSET O. ENANO AND JOVIC YEE