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DOH to hire 500 health workers to monitor Dengvaxia recipients

The Department of Health (DOH) would hire an additional 500 surveillance officers who would monitor public school children who had received the Dengvaxia vaccine under the government’s dengue immunization program, its chief said Wednesday.

"The DOH decided to hire 500 additional surveillance officers to go to schools to conduct check-ups para malaman (so they would know the health condition of the Dengvaxia recipients). May ugnayan po kami sa DepEd (We have coordinated with the Department of Education)," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum held in a café in Malate, Manila.

Duque said that since children spend longer hours in schools, the surveillance officers could just visit these schools to check on the children.

It is the duty of the surveillance officers to monitor the health of the Dengvaxia recipients, report those who would get sick, and enter the information to the National Adverse Events Following Immunization data.

Duque said they would request Congress to provide an annual budget for the surveillance using funds from the PHP1.16 billion returned by Sanofi Pasteur for the Dengvaxia that the DOH did not use after suspending its dengue vaccination program.

"Kailangan natin ng authorization ng (We need authorization from) Congress. Resolution na lang siguro (Maybe a resolution) allowing DOH to use part of it (fund)," he said.

Some 837,000 public school children had been given Dengvaxia by the time the immunization program was suspended following Sanofi Pasteur’s disclosure that severe dengue could occur among recipients of the vaccine who have not had prior infection. Their health needs to be monitored for years.

Meanwhile, Duque announced that a number of ranking officials of the department whose names had been dragged into the Dengvaxia controversy would be reassigned next week.

"I am reassigning certain undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and directors of the Department of Health in order to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations and to prevent any potential undue influence on their findings," he said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Last week, two senior officials of the Food and Drug Administration were reassigned at the recommendation of its director general, Nela Charade Puno.

"I respect the recommendation of the Director General (Puno) to support any efforts in ensuring that ongoing investigations remain fair and transparent and immune to undue influence," Duque said.

He assured that his department is not taking allegations of impropriety lightly.

Leilani Junio / PNA