A vaccine scare is putting Philippine parents on edge, and may be putting their children in danger. Health officials are warning of complications from a groundbreaking dengue fever vaccine. But as CGTN’s Barnaby Lo reports, that warning may have sparked a panic spreading far beyond this one treatment.
Rachel Alarcon had always made use of the government’s immunization programs for her children. Why not, she says, they’re free. But that has not been the case for her youngest, who is just five months old.
“I do trust our local health workers, but Dengvaxia has me worried,” the mother said. “My baby is healthy. I’m scared vaccines could cause problems.”
Dengvaxia is the world’s first Dengue vaccine. In 2016, the Philippine government launched an immunization program that has covered more than 800,000 schoolchildren to date. Late last year, however, Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi warned that the vaccine could trigger severe illness among those who have never been exposed to the mosquito-borne virus.
Dengue fever – the type that can kill you – is on the rise. Now after decades of attempts, researchers have developed a vaccine.
This warning sparked fear and panic, even though the health department says only three deaths can so far be linked to Dengvaxia.
“What we have now is a causal association, meaning it seems to be connected by the time frame, by the disease process, and what happened to the patient,” according to Dr. Enrique Domingo, undersecretary at the Philippine Department of Health. “However, to establish that actual cause, we need some more tests.”
The Health Department suspended its anti-Dengue vaccination program, but it does still have other vaccinations programs that it says have been proven effective. The problem is, immunization rates have been plummeting.
The coverage rate even for something as benign as deworming has dropped more than 50 percent, according to the Health Department, and in one of the regions covered by the Dengue vaccination program, close to a third of the usual number of children getting routine vaccines are not receiving them.
A measles outbreak in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown of Davao, the health department says, could also be partially attributed to the scare.
“We just ask everybody to please not confuse Dengvaxia with the other immunization programs; programs for polio, measles, rubella, mumps,” Dr. Domingo said. “These are diseases that are ancient, and we should not be seeing again.”
These are all diseases Rachel could already be protecting her child from had she not let the hysteria over Dengvaxia affect her. After all, a five-month-old is years away from being eligible for the Dengue vaccine.