Ejercito thumbs down call for PAO chief Acosta to resign

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Senator JV Ejercito says Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta was only doing her job.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — Senate Health committee chair JV Ejercito refused to join calls for Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta to resign amid the measles outbreak now being linked to the panic caused by the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.

"We cannot force anybody to resign. It's her call," Ejercito told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday.

He echoed the statements made by the Palace and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who said that Acosta was only doing her job in lawyering for the parents of children who reportedly died after being inoculated with the anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine.

But Ejercito acknowledged that Acosta's delivery of her statements may have contributed to the panic that ensued following the Dengvaxia mess.

"Probably it's her delivery. Sometimes it's her character, naghi-hysterical siya [she was hysterical,] probably, it may have contributed," he said.

The senator also appealed to parents to vaccinate their children and separate Dengvaxia from other vaccines.

"We will have bigger problems — diphtheria, anti-polio (sic), measles, [tuberculosis,]" Ejercito said. "Mas makakabuti kung bakunahan natin ang ating mga anak sa mga napatunayan nang bakuna."

[Translation: We will have bigger problems — diphtheria, polio, measles, tuberculosis … It will be better if we vaccinate our children with already proven vaccines.]

Former Senate health committee chair Risa Hontiveros called for Acosta to step down on Friday, saying that her "lies have slain children."

"She stood at the gravesides of poor, dead children to wage a vicious campaign of disinformation, pseudo-science and politically-motivated witch-hunts. Her lies and hysterics contributed directly to the erosion of public trust in our vaccination programs," Hontiveros said.

She also said that she is disappointed that Acosta did not include the Department of Health (DOH)-commissioned panel from the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in the PAO's probe on the anti-dengue vaccine.

The UP-PGH panel found that some of the children given Dengvaxia died of dengue despite getting the vaccinated against it, but medical experts have not yet found direct links between the anti-dengue vaccine and their deaths.

However, the panel said these deaths justify the decision of the government to halt the use of the anti-dengue vaccine, which was given to around 800,000 schoolchildren before its manufacturer, French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Pasteur, said the vaccine can cause "severe disease" among those who have not yet been infected with dengue.

The expert panels' findings are contrary to those of PAO forensics chief Dr. Erwin Erfe, who asserted that the children they examined died due to Dengvaxia, citing patterns from his autopsies on their bodies.

Acosta has said that it is "unfair" to blame the PAO for the outbreak.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon that some of their health workers had to deal with angry comments from people fed up with Dengvaxia.

"Some of our health workers on the ground were giving us feedback na nagagalit sa kanila, sinasabi sa kanila, 'O, ito na naman ang DOH, nagbabakuna na naman, hindi na natututo 'to sa Dengvaxia.' Always, there is a relationship with the Dengvaxia scare," Duque said.

[Translation: Some of our health workers on the ground were giving us feedback that people were getting mad at them, telling them, "Oh, here comes the DOH, vaccinating again, as if they haven't learned their lesson from Dengvaxia." Always, there is a relationship with the Dengvaxia scare.]