PRESIDENT Duterte in one rare instance of withholding his vindictiveness toward his predecessor, who had equally been vindictive toward his predecessor, said he would not put the blame on anyone for the disastrous dengue vaccination program, in which the scarcely tested Dengvaxia formulation from the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur was administered to tens of thousands of Filipino students during the waning months of the Aquino administration.
Sanofi has recently admitted tests showed that the vaccine would make those who had not contracted dengue even more prone to it, so that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, a Thomasian, has ordered the vaccination program stopped. Duterte said he himself would have implemented the ambitious and very costly P3.5 billion program, if only to check the dengue menace and save children’s lives.
Crocodile tears! Duterte’s reaction is vintage statist. Even if the vaccine then as now has
had zero effectiveness, he would have ordered it administered to the masses not because of altruism but out his own sense of populism and socialist demagoguery. Costs do not matter to him or at the least, he seems impervious to them, as is evident in his tax reform, free tuition in state colleges and universities (SCU), increase of social security pension, and even his one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao. The military cost of the Marawi crisis alone cost P5 billion and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the free tuition for SCU’s would cost P100 billion next year.
Who’s going to pay for all of this? Who else but the Filipino taxpayer, presumably more prone now to dengue (and higher health costs) than ever before because government has wasted P3.5 billion on a vaccine that not only doesn’t work, but makes things worse.
Duterte and Aquino may resent being compared to one another, but their common denominator is that both personify the state’s inordinate appetite for spending just for the sake of spending, the better for the state and bureaucracy to batten on money and resources pooled from merciless taxation and charging of state fees of hapless taxpayers. They may decry “epal” politicians—or politicians who trumpet at public expense their achievements—but Aquino and Duterte are both suckers for populism and self-glorification.
For the Aquino regime, it is dubious for one that the Dengvaxia program was hastily
cobbled up in December 2015 and launched before the 2016 national and local elections. Despite the vaccine’s untested effectiveness (and side effects), Aquino himself met with Sanofi officials and approved a budget of P3.5 billion for its implementation.
His health secretary, former Rep. Janette Garin of Iloilo, who worked to ram the passage of the Reproductive Health law in 2012, and a provincemate of Aquino’s choice to succeed him, Mar Roxas, ignored all protocols (medical experts had advised that the DOH wait for the completion of several studies and tests) and jettisoned good sense to rush the mass vaccination program. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine with uncommon haste. Paulyn Ubial, assistant secretary of health at that time and who succeeded Garin at the start of the Duterte administration, was reported to have noticed the haste of her predecessor. For her, the timing of the launch was “unethical” since it coincided with the election campaign and was aimed at promoting certain candidates. Garin, however, called the criticism an act of “personal vendetta.” But did she subject herself to vaccination of the dubious formula along with the hapless children? We doubt it.
But enough of petty fights. All efforts should now focus on arresting or checking the vaccine’s effects on the students. But of course, this should be done with the caveat that the authorities that would do this would be themselves the culprits of inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption—the DOH, FDA, and the overall bureaucracy.
For example, physicians and health experts said the vaccination programs seem to operate based on misinformation and lack of parental consent, Dr. Anthony Leachon, former president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said local governments had failed to educate parents of students to be immunized of the vaccine’s complications. They had failed to inform parents and guardians that vaccines are not a cure.
On a related note, the Dengvaxia controversy should raise concern about the incompetence and/or corruption of the FDA and how the same vices could have affected its decision in approving 51 contraceptives that pro-life physicians and medical experts said had abortifacient, among other negative, effects, contrary to the Supreme Court decision on the RH Law.
As the Science & Technology article on dangerous contraceptive side-effects on page 12 of this issue of the Varsitarian shows, birth-control pills and other contraceptives have side-effects that may put one’s life in danger.
But the Duterte administration is bent on implementing the RH Law despite the medical risks of contraceptives if only because the budget for its implementation runs in the billions, like the Dengvaxia program. In short, more deadly than the epidemic of dengue and alleged “overpopulation” is the epidemic of greed and populism and social engineering in the Philippine government.