MANILA – In the wake of the brewing Dengvaxia mass vaccination squabble, Iris Alpay, mother of a child who had been inoculated as part of the school-based vaccination program, lamented: “Nakakatulog pa ba siya nang mahimbing? Kasi po kami, hindi na (Does she still sleep soundly at night? Because we no longer do).”
Iris was referring to former Department of Health Secretary Dr. Janette Garin, under whose watch the program was launched in April 2016.
Alpay, the mother of a 12-year-old who was vaccinated with Sanofi’s Dengvaxia, confronted Garin on Monday at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry into the program that has sparked widespread alarm following a disclosure by pharmaceutical Sanofi Pasteur that further assessment of its clinical studies showed the vaccine, when injected into zero-negative persons or those who never had a bout with dengue, could put them at risk of severe dengue strains in the future.
“I trusted so much … the government, especially DOH … You endangered the lives of our children. Sobrang disappointment ang nararamdaman ko, sobrang galit ang nararamdaman ko ngayon (I feel so much disappointment, I feel so much anger right now),” Alpay added, noting that the mix of fear and worry have brought her sleepless nights since the recent disclosure by the drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur that for those who were not previously infected by the virus and were vaccinated, there could be more cases of “severe dengue” following a subsequent dengue infection.
“Siguro nung nagdesisyon kayo, ang mga konsyensya ninyo ay itinago muna ninyo sa bag o bulsa o kung saan (When you were deciding on the matter, you probably stuffed your consciences into a bag or pocket or wherever),” Alpay grumped.
For her part, Garin insisted the government only had the benefit of Filipinos in mind when they procured the drug.
There are four strains of dengue, she explained. If a person gets infected with one strain, he or she is protected against that strain for life, but not against the three other strains.
Based on data even from other countries, the Department of Health indicated that a succeeding dengue infection is “almost always severe.”
This, Garin pointed out, was what the government was trying to prevent.
The vaccine’s prospective benefit was an anticipated 80 percent reduction in hospitalization, and an estimated 93% reduction in the severity of dengue hemorrhagic fever when it strikes.
Data from the DOH’s epidemiological office showed that the Philippines had become “hyper-endemic,” meaning all four strains of dengue circulated throughout the year, as opposed to just during the rainy season, Garin said.
Meanwhile, Blue Ribbon committee chairperson Senator Richard Gordon said the hearing was being conducted in part because, “We must not give vaccination a bad name.”
Other countries like the United States already had loud anti-vaccination proponents, and he did not want the same to happen to the Philippines.
Health Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque chimed in: “Don’t let this one event taint the innocence of the other vaccines.”
Along with Garin, Duque pointed out that other vaccines have been proven to protect persons and have averted hospitalizations for decades. Such vaccines include those combating measles, polio, Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus, and smallpox.
“Sana po wag po kayo mawawalan ng tiwala (I hope you don’t lose your trust in them),” Duque added.
Under the government’s school-based and community-based programs, 830,000 persons have been vaccinated with Dengvaxia, while 32,000 other private patients have also been immunized.
While Garin seemed to still have faith in Sanofi Pasteur, Duque said he was “pregnant with doubt” regarding their statements. “My index of suspicion is so high,” he added.
He added that Dengvaxia offers “variable protection” depending on the strain of dengue; in other words, “It’s not 100 percent (protection).”
Asked about by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian about how to distinguish persons who have had dengue and those who haven’t prior to vaccination, Duque said that it is difficult to do so because the usual testing kits will find that all these vaccinees have had dengue, without making that distinction. But, he added, Sanofi Pasteur is developing a testing kit to determine which persons have been naturally infected with dengue as opposed to those who’ve had it “vaccine-derived.”
Alpay, meanwhile, said that the government must provide insect repellents to communities, as well as conduct fumigation activities.
Given that their children were made “experimental rats,” she said, “That’s the least you could do for us … Gobyerno ang nagkasala sa amin eh (It’s the government who wronged us).”