Citing reports from Department of Health (DOH) field offices, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday admitted that the controversy on the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, “tainted the credibility” of the department’s vaccination program, resulting to a decrease in immunization coverage.
“I’d like to take as an example in Mindanao and Davao, in particular, where reports show that there is a much lower coverage for measles,” Duque said at the resumption of the House hearing on the anti-dengue immunization program that cost over P3 billion.
The DOH said on Friday that only about 60% children are getting their scheduled vaccines, when the health department’s annual vaccination rate target is around 85%.
“Even for otherwise very benign programs, such as deworming, people are resisting the deworming activities of the DOH,” the Health Secretary said.
“This is really a cause of concern [that] just because of this one controversial vaccine, it has tainted the credibility of the entire DOH immunization program,” he added.
Duque ordered health officials from the affected regions not to stop their vaccination activities.
He also noted that the health officers needed to intensify their campaign in informing the public of the effectiveness of “tried and tested” vaccines such as those for mumps, rubella, and measles, among others.
“I told them not to give up, continue to convince families and parents that these innocent vaccines of DOH continue to provide sufficient protection against illnesses,” he stressed.
The Health Secretary explained that the government’s immunization program is “extremely crucial” to stop possible fatal illnesses in the future.
“We are also looking at possibly incentivizing but we have to further study better uptake of parents,” he added.
Meanwhile, French drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur assured Filipinos that its vaccine continues to be “safe and efficacious,” despite admission that the drug may be dangerous when administered to individuals who have not been infected with mosquito-borne disease before.
The P3.5 billion worth of immunization program was launched in April 2016 during the Aquino administration. This program aims to provide free vaccines to public school students in places with high incidences of Dengue.
The vaccination was called off December last year following concerns over the risks posed by the vaccine to those people without prior infection.
On February 2, the findings of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) Dengue Investigative Task Force revealed that three of the 14 children died because of dengue after receiving Dengvaxia.
The report stated that three out of the 14 children died due to what they called dengue shock syndrome, while two of the three deaths could have resulted from vaccine failure.
Sanofi earlier declined a request from the Philippine government to fully refund the P3.5 billion spent on the anti-dengue vaccines in 2016, but it has given back an initial P1.16 billion reimbursement for unused Dengvaxia doses.
At least 830,000 public school students In Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon had been vaccinated under the government’s immunization program.