Mass vaccination flawed, US scientist tells senators
A US-BASED expert on dengue research said Tuesday he was “astonished and upset” with the mass vaccination program that administered the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia to 800,000 children.
Dr. Scott Halstead, who served as senior advisor to the International Vaccine Institute of Seoul, South Korea, told the Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia controversy that he earlier recommended that blood tests should be done before the dengue vaccine was given.
He said patients should have been tested before administering Dengvaxia to exclude seronegatives, or those who had not been infected with dengue before.
“I made a suggestion that before Dengvaxia was given to everybody, there should be test. Everybody said ‘Ha ha ha’ that is impossible, nobody haas done that before.’ But I am sorry, that’s not ‘ha ha ha’, that’s possible,” the scientist told the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing Tuesday.
He also disclosed having a dialogue with Sanofi, the maker of Dengvaxia, to establish if the vaccine was safe for seronegatives.
“It was logical that they conduct a test and that test allowed them to separate the children who were seropositive and seronegative,” Halstead said.
Halstead said he nearly fell off his chair when Sanofi proposed that the vaccine only be given to those aged 9 and older, noting that this did not make sense.
What’s more crucial than age, he said, is the determination of a patient’s history of dengue infection before administering Dengvaxia.
“Two-to-5-year-olds and 9-year-old children are in the same immunological continuum. They are not two different categories,” he said, adding that the age limit should have been higher.
This also prompted him to write a paper on the matter.
“Sanofi’s allegation that 9 years was a safe year because there are some intrinsic difference between 9-year-olds and [those who are] younger, it simply did not fit the biology of the human species,” he said.
Halstead did not say which officials he had warned about the vaccine, but the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia program was initiated by former Health secretary Janette Garin during the Aquino administration.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III suspended the implementation of the program following the disclosures made by the French giant manufacturer that Dengvaxia should not be given to seronegatives.
Halstead also said a test to identify seronegatives and seropositives has been available in the Philippines since the 1970s.
Testifying in the same hearing, Duque assured parents who lost their children allegedly to Dengvaxia and those who are currently battling the illness that they would get state assistance.
He also said they had sought an authorization from the Department of Budget and Management to allot the unused funds to support families affected by the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, said Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had already approved the use of those funds to help those allegedly affected by the vaccine.