PAO chief Persida Acosta on vaccine scare: 'Don’t look at me'

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
PAO chief Persida Acosta on vaccine scare: 'Don�t look at me'
Persida Rueda-Acosta

MANILA, Philippines — Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta has denied responsibility for the measles outbreak that health officials attributed to a vaccination scare arising from the PAO’s pursuit of cases involving the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine.

Acosta yesterday turned the tables on the Department of Health (DOH), saying the outbreak was a result of the DOH’s “failure to campaign” for the measles immunization.

“How can we be responsible for the measles problem today? It is the mandate of the DOH to campaign for proven immunization. We’re not against any tested vaccination. Our only concern here is Dengvaxia,” Acosta told journalists during the PAO National Convention at the Manila Hotel.

Acosta was reacting to reports that PAO’s claim on Dengvaxia created a vaccine scare and discouraged the public from availing themselves of the government’s vaccination program.

A group of doctors said Acosta’s unproven claim that Dengvaxia caused the death of several schoolchildren resulted in the drastic decline in vaccine confidence in the country.

They said the vaccine confidence dropped to 32 percent in 2018 from 93 percent in 2015.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said the decline in the immunization rate became significant last year as a result of the Dengvaxia controversy, although he said there are also other factors that contributed to the drop in the immunization rate.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III appealed to the public to separate the issue of Dengvaxia from the measles vaccine.

Duque said he previously sought the coordination of PAO in addressing the Dengvaxia controvesy.

He said Acosta refused and instead continued attacking the DOH and him.

Acosta said it is unfair for the DOH to blame the PAO because the promotion and administration of vaccine is not the job of her office.

“We did not cause that. We are not the ones who administered the mass vaccination,” she said, referring to the vaccine scare.

“Those getting measles now should have been vaccinated in 2015, 2016 or 2017. Why wasn’t there a better campaign by the DOH for it and why didn’t they go house-to-house?” she added.

Acosta said even the PAO’s pursuit of cases against those responsible for the deaths allegedly caused by Dengvaxia vaccine has nothing to do with measles vaccine.

“We did not create the scare. It was Sanofi who organized a press conference on Nov. 29, 2017, saying that Dengvaxia cannot be administered to those without history of the disease. The vaccine was already given. So did PAO create the scare?” she said.

Acosta said that PAO did not campaign against the measles immunization program of the DOH.

DOJ chief backs Acosta

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra agreed with Acosta that PAO should not be blamed for the measles outbreak.

Guevarra said the PAO, which has been tapped by the department to conduct fact-finding investigation and build cases on the Dengvaxia controversy, is just performing its duties.

“PAO chief Acosta is just doing her job and certainly does not intend to scare the public about the possible negative effects of vaccination in general,” Guevarra said in a text message.

He said the solution to the outbreak is an aggressive information drive on vaccines.

“That’s why the DOH, with the President’s support, will launch a vigorous campaign to inform the people about the necessity of vaccination to prevent common illnesses such as flu and measles,” he said.

Guevarra gave the assurance that the DOJ would soon resolve the criminal charges involving the first batch of Dengavaxia cases filed before the department.

“I have directed the Dengvaxia investigating panel to resolve the cases this month,” he said. 

When asked if Acosta should be blamed for the measles outbreak, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo for his part said: “The PAO chief is responsible enough to know whether her actions would result into discouraging people or children or parents to have themselves immunized. So we leave it to her.” 

Meanwhile, Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo partylist said President Duterte and Acosta are to blame for the vaccination scare that contributed to the measles outbreak.

Alejano said the controversy over Dengvaxia and the deaths that Acosta’s office had “inconclusively” linked to the vaccine prompted the people to stay away from the government’s vaccination program. – With Mayen jaymalin, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez

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