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Undue fear, panic over Dengvaxia undermining public health programs, warn experts

MANILA, February 6, 2018–A group of local doctors and scientists have released a statement expressing dismay and alarm over how “the Dengvaxia controversy has degenerated into a fiasco that has started to erode public confidence in the country’s vaccination programs and other public healthcare endeavors.”

“Statement on the Dengvaxia controversy: Let us put public welfare above all else” was signed by 58 doctors and scientists, which included former Secretaries of Health Dr. Esperanza Cabral and Dr. Manuel Dayrit, deans of colleges of medicine, and members of the academe, among others. It was e-mailed to various media outfits.

The statement decried “the imprudent language and unsubstantiated accusations” by persons with “questionable qualifications”, which have resulted in “unnecessary fear and panic” among many parents who now refuse to have their children receive life-saving vaccines under the government’s national immunization program. Even deworming efforts are being met with suspicion and resistance, with many parents afraid to give consent.”

The statement warned that if this trend continues, the country could face outbreaks of debilitating and life-threatening diseases that have already been controlled through our vaccination programs. “The only way to continue to prevent deadly epidemics of these infectious diseases is to sustain a high rate of vaccination in our population. This will not be possible if parents refuse to consent to vaccination for their children because of fear.”

In their statement, the doctors and scientists expressed their support for the Department of Health (DOH) decision to suspend its Dengvaxia immunization program until there is a quick and cost-effective test for previous dengue infection.

Citing findings that the vaccine provides persistent, long-term protection to persons who have already been infected with dengue, they urged the DOH not to pull out the vaccine from the market altogether.

The statement stressed that “there is no such thing as a perfect vaccine” and called on the medical and scientific community to weigh the risks of any vaccine against its benefits, i.e. the potential to save lives against the possible adverse effects. It also underscored that science is not static. “When new findings are known, recommendations change. These decisions are best made and analyzed without the added burden of public misinformation and demonization.”

In concluding their statement, the doctors and scientists appealed to their medical colleagues “to consider the greater good in all their statements and actions and to be careful about unfairly slandering colleagues by careless, sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations.”

They urged persons with “documentary evidence that can truly shed light on the current controversy” to come forward and present the truth. (Eric Michael Santos / Luzon Times)

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