Duque says reconsideration of Dengvaxia vaccination program not on the table

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HEALTH Secretary Francisco T. Duque III (back to the camera) visits dengue patients at the Western Visayas State University Medical Center in La Paz, Iloilo City on July 25. — BW/ERSSANTIAGUDO

AMID THE declaration of a nationwide dengue alert, Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the Department of Health (DoH) is not considering just yet a possible revival of the controversial Dengvaxia vaccination program.

“We need to study the recommendation… because there is no specific test that would exactly prove that a person has been infected by dengue,” he said during a visit to Iloilo City Thursday.

He emphasized that risks should be balanced with many other factors, noting that those who can benefit from the Dengvaxia vaccine are only those with prior exposure to the dengue virus.

Mr. Duque explained that the available dengue test “cross-reacts” with other viruses like Chikungunya and Zika virus.

“Remember the test cross reacts with other viruses, so it could be Chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, it could be Zika virus, and I heard it cross reacts with measles virus. So having said that, if it is positive, you are not sure if it’s positive of dengue virus,” he said.

The DoH’s Dengvaxia vaccination program has been cancelled and the vaccine banned in the Philippine market since last year following allegations of related deaths among children who received the vaccine.

Several cases have been filed in court against past and present DoH officials, including Mr. Duque, as well as officials of manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc. and distributor Zuellig Pharma Corporation.

Mr. Duque, nonetheless, underscored that immunization for other diseases is still important, particularly as part of the government’s Universal Health Care program. He added that he is hopeful that one day, there is going to be a fully-proven effective anti-dengue vaccine. “UHC is still nothing without an effective immunization program… Hopefully, dengue vaccine — that Takeda is proven effective but they are not yet done with their clinical studies so we are awaiting that — one day, there is going to be a vaccine that is going to be effective for all the four strains of dengue,” he said.

Mr. Duque held a dialogue with local officials in Iloilo and inspected hospitals and other facilities amid the dengue outbreak. He also directed the utilization of the 2019 Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients (MAIP) funds worth P198.34-million of the regional health office to assist dengue patients.

The Western Visayas Region has the highest number of dengue cases. It’s five provinces — Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras and Iloilo — and the highly urbanized Iloilo City have all declared dengue outbreaks. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo