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Duque: Disease outbreaks 'not a remote possibility' due to Dengvaxia-caused vaccine scare

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday warned of disease outbreaks that might happen due to public fear on vaccines as a result of the controversy over the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Speaking at a news forum in Manila, Duque said vaccination coverage rates have dropped "as a whole" since Dengvaxia's maker announced late last year that the vaccine may aggravate dengue in some cases.

In particular, Duque mentioned Davao City and Zamboanga City, where measles outbreaks have been declared, and in Region 3 (Central Luzon).

However, he claimed that the Department of Health's Outbreak Response Immunization effort in Davao City, for one, has contributed to the inching up of vaccination coverage rates. 

"That's not a remote possibility, I think that can happen which... [I] hope doesn't happen," he told reporters when asked if he fears more disease outbreaks could result from the dengue vaccine scare.

A report from the Department of Health Region 11, Duque said, found that the issue surrounding Dengvaxia was the top reason for people's unwillingness to be vaccinated.

If the Dengvaxia-induced wariness toward vaccination continues, Duque said measles may be the number-one otherwise preventable disease to break out, along with rabies and polio.

He has earlier claimed that the government's vaccination program remains reliable amid the Dengvaxia issue.

Duque, who has manned the helm of the DOH during the A(H1N1) pandemic, the melamine-in-milk products scare, and the ebola virus threat, said the Dengvaxia controversy is a "class of its own."

"This has sent shockwaves to the entire hospital and public heath system," he said.

"We've done a lot of these in the past but nothing like this, this magnitude and as an extreme consequence as this," he added.

More than 800,000 individuals received at least one dose of Dengvaxia in 2016 as part of the government's now-suspended mass dengue immunization program.

Public alarm and congressional questioning followed French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur's announcement in November last year, which said the vaccine may cause a "severe" case of dengue among individuals who have never been had the dengue-borne infection prior to vaccination.

The Public Attorney's Office and a group of experts from the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital have conducted separate and methodologically different examinations of deaths that are believed to be linked to the vaccine.  —KBK, GMA News

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