Aquino may have condemned hundreds of thousands to severe dengue and Zika

FORMER President Aquino’s order to undertake a mass vaccination program using the faulty Dengvaxia vaccine just three months before he left office has put at risk some 830,000 Filipino children, to contract potentially severe dengue, and Zika fever as well, another mosquito-borne disease.

Dr. Scott Halstead, the leading figure in dengue research in the past 50 years and a former head of the US Army Medical Research and Development Command, had very sarcastically said of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia: “It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue.” *

He was referring to microbiological studies that showed that those who hadn’t contracted dengue and who are then vaccinated with Dengvaxia were likely to suffer a more severe form of dengue if they should ever catch the virus.

Other researchers on the other hand had raised warnings that because of the genetic similarity of dengue with the Zika virus, Dengvaxia may also make such vaccinated persons prone to contracting the Zika disease.

While causing only mild symptoms, Zika could be transferred by a pregnant woman to her baby, resulting in brain malformations (such as abnormal smallness) and other birth defects. While Dengvaxia has been administered mostly to 830,000 fourth-grade children, any one of these children contracting Zika may infect adult women through certain types of mosquitos, not just the Aedes Aegypti that transmits dengue and Zika.

Aquino meeting with Sanofi execs December 2015, with Garin and Finance Secretary Purisima. Inset: Possible longterm consequences—more severe dengue illness and Zika that results in brain abnormalities.

Aquino’s horrendously faulty Dengvaxia mass vaccination therefore may have put at risk not only 830,000 Filipino children but, through Zika, a future generation of Filipinos who may have brain malformations and other birth defects.

All these warnings on Dengvaxia were issued by experts on the disease and by the World Health Organization in 2015 and in the early months of 2016. The health department’s pharmaceutical division and the National Formulary Executive Council that includes experts on specialized fields had advised in January 2016 against the mass vaccination using Dengvaxia. (Only on November 29 did Sanofi issue a warning that its Dengvaxia might indeed result in severe dengue if administered to those who had not contracted the disease before.)

Yet Aquino inexplicably directed the four major entities of his administration—the health, budget, education, and the interior and local governments—to order the Dengvaxia, fund the purchase from sources unauthorized by Congress, and vaccinate in three regions such a huge number of fourth graders in the closing months of his regime.

The mass vaccination program was so rushed that requirements set by the World Health Organization were not undertaken, among them: verification if a particular area targeted for the program had at least 50 percent exposure to the dengue disease (a requirement listed by the WHO); clear explanation to the parents and their consent; and a determination that a recipient of the vaccine had never contracted dengue and therefore shouldn’t be injected with the vaccine.

The program was so rushed that to this day, there is no complete database of children injected with Dengvaxia, making the health department’s work of monitoring their health nearly impossible.

I cannot think of any motivation for Aquino’s obsession to buy P3 billion worth of Dengvaxia from the French firm Sanofi so hurriedly if not for colossal financial gain.

Barely three months after he met with high-ranking Sanofi officials in Paris on December 2, 2015, the health department ordered the Dengvaxia in March. This was despite the fact that funds for this were not in the budget approved by Congress for 2015 and 2016, and was not even in the health department’s was not even in the health department’s programs for those years and even for 2017.

This was despite the fact that the health department’s own pharmaceutical department and the National Formulary Executive Council – the body that approves what drugs and vaccines the government may procure or use – had recommended against the mass vaccination program using Dengvaxia.

Minutes of the formulary council’s meeting of January 25, 2016 quoted Health Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go as telling the body that the decision to fund and implement the Dengvaxia program was a “political decision”, “ already made by a higher committee.”

Would I be wrong to believe that the decision was by the highest political authority in the land, Aquino, in order to procure a commission in the hundreds of millions of pesos?

This is not just a crime of corruption nor just of plunder. Considering that the health and even lives of 830,000 Filipino children have been put at risk, with future generations even facing the prospect of being born with brain defects, this is a crime against humanity.

*Type in your search engine field: “Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika”; “Dengue virus exposure may amplify Zika infection”; “Past dengue exposure may increase potency of Zika infection”.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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