KUALA LUMPUR, August 9 — Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte is considering an about turn on his government’s blanket ban on the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Faced by a staggering number of people reported to have been infected with dengue and the death of hundreds since January, most of who were children, Duterte stated that the perceived risk of using the vaccine had to be measured against the death toll as well as well the almost 150,000 cases of dengue fever since January.
The Philippines has already escalated its alert level to a national dengue epidemic. Millions are believed to be at risk of this mosquito-borne disease.
“Me, I’d rather go on the side of science,“ Duterte reportedly said to AFP, “If there’s anything there, in the Western medicine, and even these herbal or Oriental, if it will mean saving people’s lives, I’ll go for it.” He also said that he would “hear the word of the experts”.
Duterte’s 15-year-old daughter has already received the Dengvaxia shots.
The government had imposed a blanket ban on the Dengvaxia vaccine, prohibiting its import, sale and distribution, after it was blamed for the deaths of dozens of children vaccinated during a mass vaccination programme in 2016.
Dengvaxia is already licensed for use in 20 countries but the Philippines was the first country to use the vaccine in such a widescale programme.
However, complications arose after disclosure by Dengvaxia’s manufacturer, Sanofi, that the vaccine could worsen symptoms for people not previously infected by the virus.
This caused distrust and panic among parents raising accusations that the vaccine was responsible for the children’s deaths. However, a government investigation found no conclusive proof linking the vaccine to those deaths.
Despite the inquiry’s outcome, Dengvaxia was banned by the government anyway.
Duterte’s public statements may result in the government lifting the ban to tackle the crisis.