Vaccine scare: Threat to global health

February 14, 2020

THE Dengvaxia incident last 2017 which killed eight children had caused serious trauma to families of victims, scared other people and resulted in lost of confidence in vaccines. With the reemergence of some deadly diseases in the country like polio, tuberculosis and measles, the public is facing an infectious disease crisis with the recent outbreak of corona virus or COVID-19.

The death toll from COVID-19 in China surged to more than 1,000. The virus attacks the respiratory system. Most patients developed pneumonia.

People with weak immune system could easily catch any deadly virus and bacteria including pneumonia which can be fatal depending on the severity of the disease and if not detected early.

As people panicked to protect themselves from infectious diseases, many are hesitant to get vaccine shots and many raised doubts on vaccines’ efficacy.

Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), said the loss in vaccine confidence caused by Dengvaxia incident was further exaggerated by the spread of fake news. She said the country had already achieved zero cases on serious illnesses. Based on 2015 survey, vaccine confidence was noted to as high as 93 percent but went down to 32 percent because of misinformation that scared people to get shots.

“We should not let another vaccine scare happen again, particularly for pneumonia vaccines because pneumonia is the forgotten killer not only of children but also adults,” Dr. Bravo said during the recent health forum dubbed “The Need for Transparency and Truthfulness in Public Health Amid Misinformation and Fake News”.

Dr. Bravo made a reaction regarding the government’s procurement of a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and many had already disseminated false information regarding the potency of protection of PCV 10 and PCV 13.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumonia and can cause serious illnesses like meningitis (infection on the brain and spinal cord), pneumonia and sinus.

Ron Dagan, pediatric and infectious disease expert, made a recent statement apparently giving preference to PCV 13 saying PCV 10 is a weaker vaccine.

“By saying that one vaccine is weaker than the other is misleading and contributes only to misinformation,” Dr. Bravo said. She explained that Dagan’s misconception of PCV 13’s superiority was based on his epidemiology studies in countries that may not necessarily reflect the same in the Philippines. Dr. Bravo specifically singled out serotype 19a, which she claims is not as prominent locally as it is in other parts of the globe.

“Hindi po pare-pareho ang merong mikroboyo sa Pilipinas, kesa sa nasa Israel Amerika, Europa, at China. Alam ba nya ang epidemiology ng Pilipinas? Tingnan muna natin ang ating surveillance, ang resistance sa gamot ng mga nasa Belgium at Amerika ay napakataas kumpara dito sa Pilipinas na less than five percent lang and compared sa Hong Kong and Korea which is 80 percent,” she added.

Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA) chairman and former Bulacan governor Obet Pagdanganan called for more transparency in the procurement process.

“Kailangang desisyunan yan ng mga experts sa vaccine, magkaroon ng impact assessment. Baka naman kasi may pinaaboran na supplier lang. Dapat ilagay sa ayos, itama ang procurement, idaan sa tamang bidding. Hindi na dapat maulit ang sistemang nangyari sa Dengvaxia,” Pagdangan said.

The two officials called for a need of academic and scientific evidence in the procurement of vaccines. “Hindi dapat ang bids and awards committee ang magdedesisyon. Eksperto dapat. It should be technically and clinically okay,” Pangadangan stressed.

“Global experts like the WHO (World Health Organization) have already reported that the available PCVs in the market are comparable in impact so we must make sure that the government procures them through an open, competitive bidding process,” he said.

Dr. Bravo said there must be a National Immunization Technical Advisory Committee like in Thailand that will make a study impact on vaccine. Although the Department of Health has its own 3-member technical advisory group, she said the committee must be independent and apolitical.