Philippines: Duterte Spokesman Blames Ex-Health Secretary for Dengue-Vaccine Controversy

Froilan Gallardo
Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
171207-PH-dengue-620.jpg Philippine Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial holds a pamphlet on Zika virus that, along with a health declaration checklist, will be given to departing and arriving passengers at ports in the country, Sept. 2, 2016.

The former head of the Philippines health department had pushed for the release of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said Thursday.

Former Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial, whose appointment was rejected in October by congress, should be held liable for a health crisis following the suspension of a school-based vaccination program using Dengvaxia, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. The spokesman would not say whether she should face criminal charges

Roque said one reason why Rosell-Ubial’s appointment was rejected was because she supported the French firm Sanofi Pasteur’s release of the drug, which she had said was safe and whose side effects were low.

Last week, Sanofi admitted the drug could cause adverse side effects to people who have not had dengue but received the injection.

The government quickly pulled the drug off shelves last week and is investigating to determine how regulators allowed its sale.

The Philippines, a tropical nation where the mosquito-borne disease is endemic, became the first country in Asia to introduce Dengvaxia last year.

Roque quoted Rosell-Ubial as telling the congressional panel in October that the vaccine had been found to be “relatively safe.”

“The likelihood of what we call adverse effects after immunization is low,” Roque quoted Ubial as saying. He said that at the time, Rosell-Ubial also dismissed three deaths linked to the use of drugs as “not actually due to the vaccine itself.”

Rosell-Ubial also signed the certificate of exemption that allowed Dengvaxia to be used for pilot implementation in Manila and nearby suburbs, Roque said. More than 740,000 school children received injections of the drug.

“This was the reason why her confirmation appointment was rejected,” Roque said.

He added that Rosell-Ubial initially stopped the implementation of the dengue vaccination program shortly after she assumed office in July. Two months later, she approved its public release “despite her red-flagging certain issues.”

However, Roque stopped short of saying that Rosell-Ubial was among those who could be charged, pending a sweeping investigation.

Manila launched the school-based immunization program in April last year, two months before President Rodrigo Duterte began his six-year term. The first of three doses were given to school children age 9 and older in regions where the health department plotted the highest outbreak of dengue cases.

Sanofi has insisted on the effectiveness of its drug, and said that it did not “contain any viruses that can make people ill with dengue or severe dengue.” However, Manila’s Food and Drug Administration ordered the drug be recalled and asked people to help health authorities monitor the health of children where it had been administered.

Dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever are acute viral infections that are transmitted by a bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito infected with any one of the four dengue strains. The disease infects about 200,000 Filipinos every year.


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