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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

With current controversy kicked up by Dengvaxia vaccine in this rainy season, it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is Dengvaxia vaccine? Let's have that public hearing---NOW NA---to settle this issue once and for all.



Chief of the Public Attorney's Office, Persida Rueda Acosta, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque
With the current controversy kicked up by the Dengvaxia vaccine even as the rainy season’s full fury is already upon us,  it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is this vaccine? Let’s have that public hearing----NOW NA---to settle this issue of the safety of the vaccine once and for all.

My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a predictably fiery session last Sunday night in our regular nationwide dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw,” with the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), lawyer Persida Rueda Acosta, over the issue of the safe or unsafe use of the vaccine manufactured by Sanofi, the “Dengvaxia Vacine.

Recall that employment of this vaccine was discontinued during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III as a good number of children injected with it either fell ill or even perished. Now Dengvaxia is making headlines again as it’s being recommended for use by some quarters, even as some others are questioning its return with vehemence.

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In our interview of PAO Chief Acosta last Sunday, she vigorously  objected to its use for the Filipino public, citing some episodes that she deemed as having already jeopardized lives. From the looks of it, however, the controversy refuses to peter out and will drag on, until a more authoritative and definitive source could stamp approval or outright disapproval of this controversial vaccine.

 PAO Chief Acosta argued that in its current way of being administered to an ailing public, the vaccine is liable to cause more harm, especially if used on patients who have never had dengue before---like a regular vaccine would operate.  Acosta opined that “lalong lalala ang sakit pag zero negative ang patiente for dengue.” Morover, she cited an 11-page report from the vaccine’s manufacturer, Sanofi, showing some cases’ increase in severity, as well as a conflict of interest situation in that the current Health Secretary, Dr. Francisco Duque, had served as consultant to former Health Secretary Garin from May 2015 to June 2016.

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During our interview over nationwide DZRH, I showed the PAO Chief two successive headlines of the Inquirer last week, citing that as dengue cases rise, the Palace is “open to Dengvaxia use.” The headline the day after cited “Docs, Scientists Urge Lifting of Dengvaxia Ban.”  Atty. Acosta admitted that the medical world is currently divided over its use, with the document allegedly certifying its use by the World Health Organization never having been presented to the public.

“Where is that paper certifying the WHO approval,?” The feisty PAO Chief asked.  She also cited an 11-page report by the vaccine manufacturer, Sanofi,  that declared four dengue cases that have increased in severity.

On the other hand, Atty., Acosta claimed that her office had autopsied some 143 cases of deaths from dengue after use of the vaccine. She also pointed out that there are 34 civil cases as well as 44 criminal cases against former Health Chief and now Rep. Janet Garin.  The PAO Chief also stressed that just as there are those who support use of Dengvaxia in the current epidemic involving dengue, there are just as many medics who are against the vaccine and experts who have issued position papers vs. Dengvaxia.

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Recall that there was indeed a lot of controversy swirling around the use of this vaccine imported from the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi during the administration of former President Noynoy Aquino---forcing his administration to withhold use of the vaccine. Apparently, until now  the local medical profession still appears to be divided over this issue.

Thus, it would be a good  move on the part of the Duterte administration to seek the World Health Organization’s recommendations before deciding on whether or not to use the Dengvaxia vaccine anew in its campaign to curb the dengue upsurge especially in this rainy season.

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Just as the Health sector is divided over the Dengvaxia issue, apparently the politicians are just as divided over it.  While fomer Health Secretary Janet Garin is already a member of the House of Representatives, having won in the recent elections in Iloilo, and may be expected to push for the Dengvaccia vaccine's use, senators like Richard Gordon and Vicente Sotto are said to be against bringing it back to public use. 

I submit that the best way to settle this issue---and ease up the extreme anxiety that parents across the nation are suffering  owing to the  reported dengue epidemic brewing---is to hold a congressional hearing on this very vital issue.

Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto should bring it upon themselves to conduct an extensive hearing on the suitability of the Dengvaxia vaccine for cure of dengue---calling on authorities on both sides, as it involves the lives of perhaps thousands of Filipinos. The earlier the better and no holds barred.