Former health official pushes for clean-up efforts in response to Dengvaxia scare

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) It's time to take more proactive measures against the dengue vaccine controversy, a former health official said Tuesday.

Former Health undersecretary Dr. Susan Pineda-Mercado called for a "community effort" to stamp out breeding places for the mosquitoes that carried the disease.

"You really have to make sure you don't get that mosquito bite... Perhaps it's a wakeup call for society. We need to clean up," said Mercado, speaking on CNN Philippines' The Source.

"We have to make sure there's no stagnant water, particularly in schools, because this is a day-biting mosquito," she added.

Panic broke out when pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur announced on November 29 that Dengvaxia increases health risks for those who had not previously contracted dengue.

However, some 830,000 students were administered the vaccine under a school-based immunization program last year. Health officials say up to 10 percent of them have not had a history of dengue prior to vaccination.

The statement comes as Mercado also urged parents not to let the controversy affect the public's participation in other immunization programs. She emphasized Dengvaxia is the only vaccine that has possible negative side effects.

"All the other vaccines of the [DOH] are okay, so do not stop having your children immunized. Huwag kayong matakot sa ibang bakuna [Do not be afraid of other vaccines]," said Mercado.

"This immunization program has really protected millions of children over the years. For me it's really painful to see all of that unraveled in one sweep," she added over Facebook Live.

The Expanded Program on Immunization of the DOH caters to six preventable diseases: tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque on Monday likewise lamented how the scare could prevent parents from taking other vaccines. He urged the public not to let the issue "taint the reputation of other vaccines."

Mercado also expressed "bottled up frustration" over the controversy. She added that just because the product was registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it did not mean it was safe to use in a mass immunization program.

"This is not the dengue vaccine that we want. The dengue vaccine that this country needs is a vaccine that can be used for anyone" regardless of a person's prior history or none of dengue, she said.

Related: Duterte wants Sanofi held accountable for Dengvaxia mess - Roque

The former health official is also corresponding with the parents of those affected by the vaccine via her Facebook page. She has compiled at least 200 names so far. Mercado noted that 25 percent of the parents who contacted her via Facebook were Overseas Filipino Workers.

 

"Parents are looking for a direct contact, a response, and some assurance that their children are going to be counted in the [DOH] list," said Mercado.

She also advised parents of children who took the Dengvaxia vaccine to watch out for fevers in their children and bring them to consultation.

"[If they have] a fever of 38 (Celsius) that doesn't go down right away after giving an antipyretic or your medicine for fever, I think you should go to a doctor and make sure," Mercado said.

Other symptoms that could merit a consultation include muscle or joint aches and pain, as well as severe headache.

However, Mercado also noted these could also be symptoms of other types of infection. She advised it was best to see a doctor for the child's condition to be monitored.

Mercado was an undersecretary and Chief of Staff of former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez, who served from 1998 to 2001. She also worked with the World Health Organization for 15 years, as a director for programs handling non-communicable diseases.

Another former health undersecretary, Ted Herbosa, urged parents on Monday to file a case against Sanofi and accountable officials with the help of the Department of Justice and Department of Health (DOH).

Related: Former health official urges parents to file case against Sanofi, government