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Survey on drop in trust in vaccines: If not fake, a flawed poll

THE shrie-king claims that there has been a steep fall in Filipinos’ trust in vaccines is based on a poll that, if not fake, is deeply flawed.

The article that reported it was really just a pathetic, intellectually dishonest defense of the past administration’s Dengvaxia debacle.

It is sad that two of my former colleagues in government, former Health secretary Cabral and the current one Francisco Duque 3rd, as well as most of mainstream media were fooled by this fake news that has been reported again and again.

This fake poll was used to blame Public Attorney’s Office head Persida Acosta as being responsible for pulling down Filipinos’ trust in vaccines because of her crusade to bring justice to each and every child who had died of dengue from being vaccinated with Aquino’s Dengvaxia.

If there is a decline in Filipinos’ trust in vaccines, it is incontrovertibly former president Aquino and his Health secretary Janette Garin who are responsible, since they recklessly ordered the 800,000 children vaccinated with the defective Dengvaxia.

Yet Duque and Cabral to my disappointment have not been saying so. They and most of media have also referred to a “study of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine” that claimed that the confidence level in vaccines went down from 93 percent “in 2015” to just 32 percent “in 2018.”

The study was not by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as an institution, although two of the authors were professors there. It was an unsolicited article in the October edition of the school’s monthly journal Human Vaccine and Immunotherapeutics.

Hartigan Go (center), who wrote the report; left, a Sanofi executive; right, his former boss ex-health secretary Garin.

An opinion piece
Very significantly, and to the credit of its editors, the journal classified the piece not as a “report” or “research paper” but as a “commentary” — that is, an opinion piece.

More importantly, one of the “study’s” three authors — the actual writer, who apparently cleverly got two professors to lend their names to the article to give it legitimacy — is Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go.

Who is this Hartigan-Go?

Hartigan-Go was Aquino’s health undersecretary when the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program was undertaken. Director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2010 to 2014, Hartigan-Go was allegedly responsible for Dengvaxia’s swift registration on Dec. 22, 2015. That was the quickest approval ever made by the FDA for a company to market any drug, since it received Sanofi’s complete application only on November 1. Hartigan-Go also attempted to persuade the Formulary Executive Council to allow government to purchase and use the Dengvaxia.

Hartigan-Go was one of three doctors in Aquino’s Health department (other than its secretary Janette Garin, an obstetrician) that the joint congressional panel that investigated the Dengvaxia mess had recommended should be criminally prosecuted.

Yet that journal article carried a prominent note: “Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.” Hartigan-Go obviously lied.

Political decision
Significantly, Go is on record as having disclosed that it was Aquino himself who had decided on undertaking the Dengvaxia vaccination program, telling Health department officials that it was a “political decision” and already made by higher authority.

Hartigan-Go’s piece in the journal portrayed the Duterte government and the country in the way Dengvaxia proponents and Aquino had denigrated it when the controversy erupted: A hysterical, ignorant administration. Hartigan-Go wrote:

“In November 2017, it was announced that the Dengvaxia had risks for those not previously exposed to dengue. While some countries proceeded with adjusting guidance accordingly, the Philippines reacted with outrage and political turmoil with naming and shaming of government officials involved in purchasing the vaccine, as well as scientists involved in the vaccine trials and assessment.”

The fake news source: Note ‘Commentary’ classification.

Naming and shaming?’
Hartigan-Go of course omitted the very important information that if the Philippines did react with outrage, it was for good reason.

It was the only county which, despite warnings by experts and even the World Health Organization, had a mass vaccination program using the defective vaccine, as ordered by Aquino’s government. Why? It was an election campaign gimmick – the Yellows’ giving out free but expensive vaccines. It most probably was also due to financial gain, through commissions on the P3.5 billion cost of the vaccine.

Savaged everyone
Hartigan-Go’s article lashed out at everyone who had exposed the Dengvaxia debacle:

“There was biased media hype; social media was driven by false narratives aiming to vilify authorities, scientists and regulators; separate Senate and Congress [sic] inquiries that resembled the inquisition; a Public Attorney’s Office exhuming bodies and concluding that the dengue vaccine caused the deaths despite no solid evidence; and a handful of health professionals distorting scientific and regulatory information. All of these fueled a highly political controversy and provoked public panic.”

Hartigan-Go’s piece portrayed the cabal responsible for the Dengvaxia mess as maligned heroes:

“Accusations of impropriety were directed at health authorities who had launched the vaccination campaign in three regions of the country with the highest burden of disease in 2016 in an effort to help arrest a debilitating, and in some cases, fatal dengue epidemic.”

Hartigan-Go’s article is clearly a malicious opinion piece, his way of getting back at those who exposed the terrible mess and its culprits, including him.

But is the poll he cited – that the percentage of Filipinos trusting in vaccines in general fell form 93 percent to 32 percent — legitimate?

Very unlikely, for the following reasons.

First, legitimate polls always give details on how it was conducted, the exact dates the interviews were conducted, how (face-to-face, telephone, etc.), and even the geographical distribution of respondents. None of this was in Hartigan-Go’s piece.

Hartigan-Go’s piece merely says: “The Philippines was re-surveyed by the Vaccine Confidence Project with their Vaccine Confidence Index, using the same representative sampling approach used for the 2015 data reported in ‘The State of Vaccine Confidence 2016’ study.” He obfuscates: “Approach” is different from the actual methodology.

Astounding conclusion
On coming up with such an astounding conclusion that the drop in vaccine confidence was from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, there was no explanation at all on how the poll was done.

Second, the website of the Vaccine Confidence Report had reports on its global surveys on vaccine confidence for 2015 and 2016, and in the European Union for 2018. However, it had no article whatsoever on a Philippine vaccine confidence survey done in 2018. This is despite the fact that the website had several other news articles on the Philippines.

Third, if the survey was actually undertaken in 2018, it could have been done only in the first quarter of the year, just a few months after the manufacturer Sanofi admitted to the defect of its vaccine, and public outrage was just starting.

Although reported in media as a study released in October 2018, it was submitted to the journal two months earlier, in August 2018. Given the usual four to five months for a supposedly academic paper to be written (especially the tedious back-and-forth process if there are several authors), it was drafted only in April. The poll could have been done only in March 2018.

By no stretch of imagination could it be claimed that Dengvaxia’s bad publicity just three months from November 2017 made Filipinos’ trust in vaccines fall so sharply.

No wonder such diehard Yellow cult members as Risa Hontiveros, after Hartigan-Go’s fake paper was released, immediately went to town demanding the PAO chief’s resignation. The Yellows had a playbook, with Hartigan-Go’s “study” the cue for dialogues such as Hontiveros’.

Hartigan-Go’s paper is a classic Yellow, despicable scheme to blacken this country and its government’s image abroad, just as mediocre journalists here cry to the world that the press is being suppressed in this country.



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