By Jeffrey Damicog
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said he will not stop the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) from conducting autopsies of children who are suspected to have died as a result for receiving shots of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
The Secretary reacted to the calls of Doctors for Public Welfare (DPW) which included former Department of Health (DOH) chief Esperanza Cabral who urged Aguirre to order a stop to the autopsies being conducted by the PAO.
“I have no order to stop the autopsies,” said Aguirre in a text message.
“But I welcome the group of Sec. Cabral to give its written position to us why the autopsies should be stopped,” he stated.
Aguirre has issued Department Order (DO) No. 792 dated December 12, 2017 which directed the PAO “to extend free legal assistance in civil, criminal and administrative cases to all possible victims of Dengvaxia related injuries, illnesses and deaths.”
Since the Philippine General Hospital-Dengue Investigative Task Force (PGH-DITF) has been tasked by the DOH to conduct the autopsies, the DPW urged the DOJ to leave the matter of determining the cause of death to “competent forensic pathologists”.
“We urge the Department of Justice to order the PAO to stop performing autopsies on these children and to leave the matter of determining the cause of death to competent forensic pathologists,” the DPW said.
Last Friday, the DITF released the results of its review on the first 14 reported Dengvaxia-associated deaths.
“The results of the investigation by the forensic pathologists at the Philippine General Hospital of the 14 children autopsied and who were originally claimed by [PAO forensic expert] Dr. [Erwin] Erfe of the Public Attorney’s Office as having died due to Dengvaxia have been released. None of the deaths of the 14 children autopsied were proven to be due to Dengvaxia,” the DPW stated.
“Based on the PGH findings, it now appears that only one case might be causally associated with the vaccine. That is the one with dengue and with antibodies to dengue. However, it has yet to be determined if the vaccine had anything to do with the death,” it added.
The DITF’s review disclosed that three of the 14 deaths were due to dengue; with two of the three might be caused by vaccine failure.
“In two of the children autopsied, it was noted that vaccine failure may have been the cause. This means that no antibodies were produced and so they could not have suffered from an antibody enhanced reaction. This can happen when the vaccine is not stored properly and so loses its potency. It’s a though the children were never vaccinated. Hence, the two most likely died of dengue not due to the vaccine,” the DPW said.
In view of the findings of the DITF, the DPW said “it makes no sense for any more families to be subjected to the torture of having a loved one exhumed and cut up only to find out that no useful information was derived from the cruel act.”