MANILA – While Health Secretary Francisco Duque III acknowledged that most of the 14 children, whose deaths are being investigated by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), had succumbed to Dengue Shock Syndrome, he said it is too early to link the deaths to the controversial dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.

"We are still awaiting the findings of the Dengvaxia expert panel of the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital. Until we have validated this, let us not easily fall for speculations and other opinions," he said Thursday.

"So far, ang ipinapakita nila ay (what the PAO has shown is) consistent with Dengue Shock Syndrome. Ito naman ay kilala na talagang nakamamatay (This is known to be lethal)," Duque explained during his visit to the Parang Marikina Elementary School as part of the health department’s heightened information campaign in schools where the dengue immunization program was rolled out.

Parang Marikina Elementary School was where the department made the ceremonial dengue vaccination in 2016 during the time of former health secretary Janette Garin.

“As far as I remember, most of the 14 patients died due to Dengue Shock Syndrome. But there were some who also had other illnesses aside from Dengue Shock Syndrome. So we also have to look at it,” Duque said.

Citing the World Health Organization, he said Dengue Shock Syndrome is of grade four severity.

“Number one, mayroon pong severe plasma leakage. Ito po iyong parte ng dugo na nauunang lumabas mula sa blood vessels. Susunod po nito, mismong dugo na ang mawawala, severe massive bleeding. (There is severe leakage of plasma, which is the part of the blood that comes out first from the blood vessels. Then comes massive bleeding),” he explained, adding that bleeding in the brain, pneumonia and heart inflammation could occur next.

A patient dies due to blood loss, he said.

Meanwhile, on PAO’s refusal to include the Department of Health (DOH) in its probe, Duque said they respect the office's decision.

"What can we do if they don't want to? But, of course, it would have been better if we worked together," he said, adding that what is more important is that everybody arrives at the truth.

"We support all efforts towards finding out the truth because, at the end of the day, the truth has to be allowed to surface," said Duque.

PAO chief, Persida Acosta, has refused to include the DOH in its probe, saying this would only cast doubts on their investigation, since Duque had worked as a consultant to Garin.

Duque has explained that his professional engagement with Garin was limited to being part of a selection committee and that he was never involved in any policymaking decision during that time.

"It had absolutely nothing to do with the decision of then secretary Garin to implement the Dengvaxia school-based immunization that began in March 2016," he said.

The DOH suspended its dengue vaccination program after Sanofi Pasteur disclosed last November that Dengvaxia could result in severe dengue among those who had not been infected by the dengue virus before receiving the vaccine.

At the time of the disclosure, more than 830,000 public school children had received Dengvaxia. (PNA/Photo courtesy of RTVM)