Undermining public confidence
In the first 33 days of the year, the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Health department reports, there were 560 measles-rubella cases with 14 confirmed deaths—409 percent higher than the same period last year. By Feb. 10, the department says, the death toll from the outbreak reached 70 nationwide and the number of cases has ballooned to 4,300. Against the backdrop of these grim numbers, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta have been engaged in a word war over who is to blame. The Health secretary and his subordinates say the PAO chief is to blame, because her aggressive campaign last year to punish those responsible for the Dengvaxia mess undermined public confidence in the government's immunization program. As a result, fewer children are being vaccinated, leaving them susceptible to infection. The PAO chief, on the other hand, correctly observes that it is not the job of her office to distribute vaccines; that is the job of the Department of Health. She also points to Commission on Audit figures that show vaccination rates for contagious diseases such as measles declined in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 – even before the Dengvaxia scare that broke out in late November 2017. The Palace, for its part, has come to Acosta’s defense, saying she was merely doing her job to provide legal assistance to the families of children who died after receiving Dengvaxia.