There’s no bad science and good faith in Dengvaxia scandal



BLAMING science and pleading good faith are easy excuses made by people who are now facing the specter of administrative and criminal prosecution in relation to the Dengvaxia controversy.

There is a need to clear the cobwebs brought about by people capitalizing on the scandal to engage in sensationalizing the issue and whipping irrational hysteria among people who are not as informed.

People who blame the Dengvaxia vaccine should stop for this is not helping at all. This includes people who make others believe that it is the vaccine that will make people ill with dengue.

People get sick not because of Dengvaxia, but because they are bitten by an insect vector that carries the dengue virus, and their resistance is not enough to fight the disease. Common sense dictates that while vaccines are in fact extracted from the actual virus, they are designed to trigger the body into producing the antibodies that would immunize the person from the virus.

A vaccine like Dengvaxia is just a tool, an instrument used by people. It is not a thinking and breathing organism that willfully inflicted itself on the unsuspecting people to which it was injected.

It is also totally wrong to claim that the vaccine is totally useless, and a clear and present danger to the population. The science behind modern- day medicine has yet to produce a totally foolproof drug or vaccine. Any rational scientist worthy of his or her mettle would know that all chemical drugs have limitations and adverse side effects, and it is these that need to be propounded. All you need to do is to examine the label of any drug, whether prescription or non-prescription, to tell you that ample warnings are provided in terms of side effects as well as contra-indications which specify when or to whom the drug should never be administered.

The science behind Dengvaxia clearly stipulated its limitations. The scientists involved in the production and vetting of the vaccine did not fall short in providing adequate words of caution. As early as 2015, there were already scientific publications stating the efficacy as well as the contraindications of the vaccine. There were already statements made at the time by medical scientists recommending that the vaccine should not be administered on a large scale, and that it is effective only for people that have already been exposed to the dengue virus, or are seropositive. There was already emphasis given on the fact that the vaccine was contraindicated for people who are seronegative, or have not been exposed to or infected by the dengue virus, even as it has relatively high efficaciousness on people who have already been infected.

Hence, the science behind the Dengvaxia vaccine already laid out the parameters for its use at the time—that it must be small-scale and limited only to people who are seropositive of the dengue virus.

Thus, to claim that the misadministration of the vaccine was an outcome of bad science is utterly ridiculous. It was not the scientific community that made the decision to make shortcuts and fast-track the vaccination program. The decision was made by bureaucrats who ignored science, and instead gave more credence to political considerations. It was also pushed by pharmaceutical capitalists who gave more importance to profit.

If there are scientists who were involved, these were people who compromised their scientific training.

Science has strict rubrics. While one can take issue with science—and there is a plethora of literature critical of the scientific ethic in being masculine, Western, alienating, and epistemologically totalitarian—there is agreement that these criticisms emanate precisely from the fact that science adheres to rigid, totalizing and singular standards. And the penalty for scientists who violate any of its tenets could be severe and could compromise their careers, from getting fired to not getting hired at all.

It is also because of this that scientists who allowed the Dengvaxia vaccine to be massively administered and ignored the scientific parameters associated with it cannot plead good faith as a defense. There could never be good faith in malpractice, more so if what was violated are the scientific basis for making a decision that is pregnant with risks. The only exception would probably be if there is a catastrophic situation where quick decisions needed to be made. Certainly, while dengue is a serious public health issue, it is not listed as one of the top causes of mortality in the country. Thus, there was no catastrophic dengue epidemic enough to ignore proper scientific protocols.

Presidents Aquino and Duterte have both alluded to good faith as an overarching consideration in decisions such as these. Politicians who have pushed for the vaccine may also be tempted to follow the same line of argument.

But as public officials, it is incumbent upon those who are voted to office, and those they appoint to help them govern, to exercise prudence in making decisions on matters that are imbued with scientific and technical considerations. Issues such as an anti-Dengue vaccine should be flagged as decision points that would give priority to scientific caution, and must be made with a close ear to what scientists say. On matters such as these, good faith redounds to being conscious of science. Aquino’s apparent cluelessness is a fatal admission that he was inept and unfit to make decisions of this nature. A more prudent and caring President would have taken the initiative to seek clearer and unassailable scientific warrants.

Politicians and bureaucrats should not be allowed to escape accountability on the basis of good faith when the issue entails scientific considerations. Sanofi may have pushed hard, but if our officials pushed back harder and said no, and listened to the warnings from the scientific community, the misuse of the Dengvaxia vaccine would never have put at risk the lives of the seronegative children injected with it.


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