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Immunizing ourselves from dangerous vaccines

How can government protect the helpless Filipinos against dangerous vaccines, being peddled allegedly by irresponsible pharmaceutical companies and supposedly abetted by some corrupt, and uncaring government officials? The current dengue vaccine fiasco, involving at least P3.5 billion worth of dengue immunization program is now being looked into by the Senate health committee, the Department of Health and expectedly the Department of Justice. Well, the purpose of Congress is merely in aid of legislation, a proactive one. What we expect is immediate action by the DOH to control the damage and arrest the exacerbation of this major disaster. The Justice Department is just reactive, to determine criminal liability, if any, to prosecute and see to it that justice is done. All these post facto investigations are worthless when people start to die.

The hullaballoo is all about this rather expensive Dengvaxia vaccine, which is causing a furor in the country and even the world. Reports said that its manufacturer, French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, announced that this vaccine could even worsen the effects of the disease of those who were not exposed to the dengue virus before. This announcement is earth-shaking, especially to our country, which has been used as the experimental laboratory, and where at least 733,000 children, aged 9 and above, had already been injected. And all these investigations can do nothing at all to save children from exacerbation of their health hazards.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III forthwith suspended the vaccination program, but it might be too late. In fairness to Duque, he inherited this from former Secretary Ubial who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments. Sanofi should withdraw this voluntarily from the market, just as car manufacturing firms recall any product discovered to be posing dangers to the car buyers. This is even more important because this is about health and safety of the people. The Bureau of Foods and Drugs should order the recall of this dangerous vaccine in order to protect the citizens. No compromise on health matters, please.

The pharma industry is one of the most profitable industries in the Philippines. Vaccines and drugs are most expensive in the Philippines among the ten ASEAN countries-Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos PDR, Myanmar, Cambodia and Brunei Darrussalam. Pharma companies spend millions in ads and promotions, and even fund doctors' conventions and medical conferences here and abroad. It is time to exercise corporate citizenship and corporate social responsibility. The pharma company, the prescribing doctors, and government officials must put the safety and well-being of the people higher than profit and business interests. The government should never compromise. No ifs, no buts.

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