MANILA — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday said that the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) will continue with its conduct of autopsies on children whose deaths are being linked to Dengvaxia, the world’s first-ever dengue vaccine which was found to cause health risk to individuals with no prior dengue infection.
Aguirre made the statement in response to the call of Doctors for Public Welfare (DPW), which includes former Department of Health (DOH) chief Esperanza Cabral, urging him to order a stop to the autopsies being conducted by the PAO.
“I have no order for PAO to stop the autopsies,” he said in a text message.
The Justice chief however, said that he would welcome a “written position” from DPW on why the autopsies should be stopped.
“But I welcome the group of Sec. Cabral to give its written position to us why the autopsies should be stopped,” the DOJ chief noted.
Aguirre earlier tapped PAO to provide legal assistance to families of children who developed severe dengue that led to either death or serious illnesses after getting the vaccine. He said he sees no reason yet to stop the ongoing autopsies.
DPW called on the DOJ to stop the autopsies being conducted by PAO forensic team led by Dr. Erwin Erfe and “leave the matter of determining the cause of death to competent forensic pathologists.”
“We urge the Department of Justice to order the PAO to stop performing autopsies on these children and to leave the matter of determining the cause of death to competent forensic pathologists,” DPW said.
The group alleged that Erfe is not a qualified forensic pathologist and was actually “wrong in practically all of the 14” cases he examined, citing results of the forensic tests conducted by pathologists in the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
The group also lamented how the reported findings of PAO in the media have been causing public panic and discouraging parents from availing of other immunization programs.
Since the PGH-Dengue Investigative Task Force (DITF) has been tasked by the DOH to conduct the autopsies, DPW urged the DOJ to just leave the matter of determining the cause of death to “competent forensic pathologists”.
On Friday, DITF released the results of its review on the first 14 reported Dengvaxia-associated deaths.
Aguirre issued Department Order (DO) No. 792 dated Dec. 12, 2017 which directed PAO “to extend free legal assistance in civil, criminal and administrative cases to all possible victims of Dengvaxia related injuries, illnesses and deaths.”
PAO chief Persida Acosta then tapped a team of PAO lawyers to gather statements and documentary evidence from parents and guardians of children who developed severe dengue after getting the Dengvaxia vaccine.
She also tapped Erfe to conduct the autopsies. His reports on previous cases have been submitted to and accepted by courts as valid evidence.
Several parents have already sought assistance of Acosta’s office in this issue.
Apart from PAO, the DOJ also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the controversial PHP3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the DOH that reportedly poses health risks to children already injected but without history of the disease.
Aguirre earlier issued DO 763, which directed NBI to conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged danger to public health arising from the said program of the Department of Health and French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
The DOH said around 10 percent of the over 700,000 school children who received the shots were at risk to a “severe” case of the disease, prompting DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III to order the suspension of the vaccination program pending recommendation from WHO experts.
Sanofi Pasteur recently issued an advisory to the public that its product Dengvaxia is effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization. But it puts at risk those who have not contracted dengue to a “severe” case of the disease.