Massive campaign to cover up Dengvaxia debacle launched

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A MASSIVE and extremely well-funded campaign has been launched to portray Sanofi and former President Aquino as totally guiltless for the 2016 mass vaccination program of 830,000 children using the French firm’s Dengvaxia, which has turned out to have put at higher risk many of those injected, and may even have already led to the death of 26 children.

Sanofi itself only two months ago, on November 29, 2017, admitted that its own studies showed “more cases of severe disease following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.” Sanofi also pointed out: “If it is given to individuals who haven’t been exposed to dengue, they could get more serious infections when they encounter the virus naturally.”

The World Health Organization a year and eight months before that, in March 2016 already issued a warning that Dengvaxia “may be ineffective or may even increase that risk in those who are seronegative (never had dengue) at the time of first vaccination.”

Yet President Aquino, his health secretary Janette Garin and Sanofi had ignored that warning and launched a mass vaccination program in April 2016, just two months before his term expired.

There has been widespread suspicion that the Aquino camp made money from the P3 billion paid to Sanofi for 1 million dosages of the vaccine. Ironically, at the time, the program was also used as a bribe of sorts to get more people to vote for Aquino’s presidential candidate, Mar Roxas, in the May 2016 elections.

I became even more convinced that such a well-funded campaign has been launched, upon reading a column of lobbyist and PR man Wallace in the Philippine Daily Inquirer a few days ago.

“Hysteria,” he says. “Dengvaxia works, a remarkable vaccine,” he says.

Wallace runs his Wallace Business Forum, which provides consultancy services and “advocacy assistance” to a number of foreign companies in the country. My sources claimed that Sanofi or a firm associated with it had contracted Wallace as a “consultant” in dealing with its Dengvaxia crisis in the Philippines. I was also told that Sanofi-Aventis has been a client of Wallace’s firm client for years. He reportedly even accompanied Sanofi officials in their appearances in the Senate investigations.

No reply

As of my deadline for submitting this column, Wallace had not replied to my email asking him to confirm or deny whether he is working for Sanofi or not.

Wallace in his column reduces the concern over the Dengvaxia as “hysteria,” created by “opportunistic lawyers.” That kind of ad hominem arguments, together with his clever twisting of facts, and exaggerations (“Dengvaxia is a remarkable vaccine”) led me to very much suspect that this is a highly paid crisis-PR man at work. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but Wallace should tell his editors, and the public, when he is doing PR work or not in his columns.

“Let’s stop the hysteria and start with a basic fact: Dengvaxia works,” Wallace wrote. Of course Dengvaxia works, as a host of other drugs that cured a particular disease or symptom but which later on were totally banned from the market for their horrific side-effects.

Examples of these include the notorious German-made thalidomide marketed in the late 1950s as a wonder drug that indeed cured women’s morning sickness and insomnia but was found later to result in deformed infants; Bayer AG’s anti-cholesterol drug Cerivastatin, which led to deaths due to renal failure; and more recently Merck & Co.’s Vioxx that relieved arthritis pain but led to heart attacks for some.

But this phenomenon is so well-known in the pharmaceutical industry that I am shocked Wallace is ignorant of it, or pretends to be for his demagogic purposes. Efficacy is not the only thing important in a new drug. More important is its safety. Pharmaceutical history is replete with cases in which a new drug cures a particular disease or symptom but causes even more more deadly diseases.

Terrible side-effect
In the case of Dengvaxia, its terrible side-effect is this: If one who has not had dengue before is injected with it, and gets dengue the second time, it will be a worse case of the disease.

C’mon, would anyone really want to be injected with Dengvaxia if it is explained to him that it does not only prevent the disease 100 percent, but will also even make him sicker, and even in danger of dying, if he contracts the disease after all? Would a doctor risk his patient’s health if he recommends Dengvaxia to be administered even if his patient never had dengue before?

Note that thalidomide, Cerivastatin and Vioxx were doctor-prescribed drugs, which means that a doctor had examined a particular person, and told him to take the drug.

In the Dengvaxia debacle, a mass vaccination program for 830,000 children was undertaken by Aquino’s health and education departments. Would you believe that the department’s medical staff or the teachers took meticulous care in asking a child or his parent that to qualify for the vaccination, he or she should have had dengue before?

Another of Wallace’s jaw-dropping statement: “Dengvaxia is working seemingly without problems in Brazil, where a similar program is being conducted. It has been licensed in 19 countries and is commercially available in 11 of these countries.”

The Brazil Dengvaxia program targeted 100,000 people—compared to 830,000 in our case—in a narrowly targeted area in its subtropical Parana state’s in towns near jungles, where dengue incidence was 90 percent. In our case, the mass vaccination program was undertaken in three vote-rich regions (National Capital Region, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon), without targeting barangays where dengue was prevalent.

‘Prescription drug’

Yes, Dengvaxia is licensed in 19 countries, but as a “prescription drug,” ordered by a doctor after determining if a patient had dengue before or not. In our case, Dengvaxia was administered en masse, which was of course a boon for Sanofi since its studies showed that only a few doctors were willing to prescribe it to patients. It would take a century for it recover the $1.8 billion cost of developing the drug, if it remained a prescription-only drug.

Wallace also wrote: “WHO recommended inoculating a populace if the prevalence of dengue infection was over 70 percent. It was 85 percent in the areas vaccinated here.” This is a classic case of obfuscating the truth through figures.

“Infected area’ in the case of dengue infestation is a very small one, usually in areas where dengue-carrying mosquitoes have proliferated because of stagnant pools. A barangay may be 100 percent infected, while an adjacent one is 100 percent clear of dengue.

By its own admissions and published orders, both the health and education departments simply ordered all its offices in the four regions to undertake the mass vaccination program through the public schools there, without any qualification as to whether an area was dengue-infected or not, or whether a recipient of the vaccine had dengue before or not.

Wallace wrote that Aquino’s mass vaccination program using a defective drug was a “judgment call.”

Aquino violated budget laws to raise the P3.5 billion to buy Dengvaxia and administer it to a targeted 1 million children, as this wasn’t in the 2016 budget authorized by Congress. His health secretary pressured the Food and Drug Administration and the Formulary Council of the Philippines to issue the clearances necessary for the government to buy the vaccine. All this were done as he was scheduled to step down from power.

If it was a judgment call, it was a judgment that his Yellow Regime would continue in power and therefore his Dengvaxia vaccination program, which could have earned for him or his cabal hundreds of millions of graft money, wouldn’t have been unearthed.

Wallace also wrote: “Dengaxia doesn’t cause dengue. None of those (injected with Dengvaxia) who suffered died.”

Tell that, Mr. Wallace, to the parents of the 26 children who never had dengue when they were injected with Dengvaxia, but contracted the disease, and have died from the symptoms it causes.