By Camille A. Aguinaldo
DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco T. Duque III on Tuesday said he has coordinated with the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) to formulate sero-testing kits for children who were given the Dengvaxia vaccines under the government’s anti-dengue immunization program.
“I’ve been in talks with my counterpart in the PCHRD (Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of DoST) headed by Dr. Jaime Montoya. We’re looking for a technology transfer so that we ourselves develop it,” he said at the Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia controversy, noting that the testing kits were developed at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Hawaii.
“We just need to bring it in and fast-track the mass production of these tests. That’s the only way to find the needle in the haystack. We have 830,000 vaccines and we want to find out who those seronegatives are,” he added.
Analysis by Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur showed that the anti-dengue vaccine may pose health risks for those vaccinated without having dengue or seronegative individuals.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, urged the government to determine who among the 830,000 vaccinated children may be at risk of severe dengue so they could be given immediate healthcare.
“An effort must be undertaken so we know who are seronegative. Get that medicine whether that’s from Pittsburgh or Hawaii or from Mars. Just get it. This is a problem we have to face,” he told Mr. Duque.
This was also the suggestion raised by known dengue research expert Dr. Scott B. Halstead during the hearing, saying that the DoH should identify who were “seronegative” or those who have not had a previous dengue illness.
“I think a few months ago, I was saying all 830,000 children should be tested. That sounds like a lot of work,” he said, noting further that the mass testing could be “unrealistic.”
He added that he would work on trying to find a booster dose specifically tasked to prevent health risks of the vaccinated children.
“A booster dose that we can get but it has to be different from (the) Sanofi vaccine, some vaccine that has been tailored specifically to take these children out of being at risk,” he said.
Mr. Duque also said the DoH has stepped up in its risk communication strategy to boost its information campaign regarding dengue.
The DoH would also be hiring 500 surveillance officers tasked to monitor the affected children in areas where the mass immunization program was implemented, he added.
Mr. Halstead said he was surprised at the Philippine government’s pushing through with its anti-dengue immunization program after he warned them against the use of the vaccine to those who had never contracted dengue.
“It was logical that they conduct a test and that test allowed them to separate the children who were seropostiive and seronegative,” he said.
In an interview with reporters, Mr. Gordon said criminal charges should be filed against government officials for the “hasty” procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccines, which included former president Benigno S.C. Aquino III, former health secretary Janette P. Loreto-Garin and former budget secretary Florencio B. Abad.
“All of them. Anybody that had anything to do with the speed, the undue haste, the wastage of fund money and above all, the severe pain that has been inflicted by the deaths and the painful stress and experience being faced by our people,” he told reporters after the hearing.
With Monday’s hearing as its last, Mr. Gordon hoped the committee report on the matter would be released before Mar. 20. He is also set to file a bill which would allow the DoH to utilize the unused vaccines refund from Sanofi Pasteur to procure dengue kits for families of Dengvaxia-vaccinated children.