The mess that is the Dengvaxia issue as it stands now does nothing for the public good. Over the last week, the public saw just how much the government did not get its act together: Politicking trumped actual concern for the public good. Open squabbles and overly territorial (and role-grabbing) actions and words played out front and center before an increasingly agitated public—on TV and radio, and over the internet. For shame. This is where our tax money was spent. What a waste.
While I rarely feel comfortable writing in the first person, I will do that now. Press badge off, I am a mother of twins, a loving aunt who has watched over nieces and nephews getting their vaccinations. Press badge on, I have covered public health issues for 24 years—I even accompanied the teams of the Department of Health (DOH) led by former Health Secretary Juan Flavier as they pushed the nationwide immunization program for children under the age of five from a dismal 20 or so percent to 100%.
As we watch the que asco fiasco of ignorance and finger-pointing that is the Dengvaxia probe by the Senate, the country’s immunization program for preventable yet deadly early childhood diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and polio are dropping to the 60% mark, possibly lower. These people providing a macabre show of incompetence on television are scaring the public—particularly parents—into distrusting them, so much so that if the drop in immunization rates for preventing childhood ailments continues, we will have other, worse, public health problems on our hands.
Dengue is vector-borne—you only get it when mosquitoes carrying any of the four strains of dengue bite you. Diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, polio and chickenpox are transmitted from patient to patient much more easily: By person to person infection via microbes that are carried in the droplets of mucus and saliva that fly into the air when a person infected with these diseases coughs or sneezes.
Polio cripples the children it infects—it causes permanent disability and, in severe cases, death. Measles and mumps can kill, too—and so do the complications of opportunistic infections that these diseases can spawn in severely weakened patients. The chickenpox does more than leave deep scars: It can also kill the persons it infects, and children under five are particularly vulnerable to this disease that attacks the lungs as well as the skin.
You will see more morbidity and mortality—fancy words for disease prevalence and deaths—from these vaccine-preventable diseases as vaccination rates for children under five fall. Blame it on the clowns who are too busy blaming each other and trying to earn political pogi points to do their sworn duty to safeguard the public good.
I watch the Senate and House probes into the Dengvaxia snafu with horror—not at the ugly unfolding in those August halls of the people. No. My horror is generated by the consequences that I see coming of this mess. I see disease being given a fresh opportunity to take our children. I see more suffering and death. I see these supposed “adults” shifting their focus to things that are a waste of taxpayer pesos and sacrificing the public they should be serving.
A pox on both Houses of Congress. A pox on all those who are permitting their own personal and political agendas to take precedence over the public duty they swore to dispatch with honesty and integrity.
How have we come to this point where we, the people, must be subjected to the awful spectacle of our public servants placing our children on the sacrificial altar of political convenience?
How low have we fallen, that we must see grieving parents manipulated into unthinking grief and accusatory anger by less than scrupulous members of the press, the legislature, officials of the various government agencies tasked with their well-being?
The whole point in vaccinating a given population is to provide what health experts call “herd immunity.” Vaccination programs are designed to protect the most vulnerable members of a community from a potentially deadly illness by eliminating the possibility of that particular microbe’s transmission.
For shame, the WHO itself said it only recommended mounting a vaccination program to curb the spread of the vector-borne dengue fever in areas where the prevalence rate of the disease reaches or exceeds 70%. The WHO also underscored the need to maintain other dengue-control measures, such as denying the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that carries dengue its breeding grounds of stagnant water.
It is a crying shame that the health secretary at the time, Dr. Janette Garin, arranged for the DOH’s procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine to the tune of P3.5 billion during a time that procurements were verboten—the campaign season preparatory to the 2016 elections.
It is also a crying shame that her successor at the DOH helm, Dr. Paulyn Ubial, lifted the suspension on the nationwide Dengvaxia drive.
Right now, as I write this, it is a shame most foul that our lawmakers, health officials past and present and functionaries of the administrations of both Benigno Aquino III and Rodrigo Duterte (plus their troll armies) are more intent on slitting each others’ throats than they are on ensuring public safety for the people they swore oaths to serve. There aren’t enough pithy oaths or swear words for me to utter as I watch this danse macabre and see who will fall victim to these people’s carelessness.
I weep. But my weeping is nothing compared to the bitter tears parents will shed by the bucketful if they wind up having to bury their children because their kids were not vaccinated against the other preventable but deadly diseases covered by the national immunization program.
Taking a deep breath, I pray: For lightning to strike the incompetent, and for our people to wise up and smell the moro-moro before them. G