PAO forensic consultant suspects 'strong link' between Dengvaxia, seven deaths

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  • UP-PGH has yet to release autopsy results
  • Erfe: 'This is not your usual dengue'
  • Erfe: Findings only 'preliminary observation'
  • Erfe: Autopsy need not be conducted by pathologist
  • At least four of seven minors examined from Bataan

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) — The Public Attorneys' Office (PAO) forensics expert revealed the pattern in the dengue deaths of vaccinated children shows a "strong link" to Dengavaxia.

After examining two more bodies from the initial five, Forensic Laboratory Director Dr. Erwin Erfe on Monday voiced his suspicion.

"Ang tingin namin doon, there is a very strong link with Dengvaxia. Consistent 'yung findings eh, across seven patients," Erfe told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: We think there is a very strong link with Dengvaxia. The findings are consistent across seven patients.]

However, Erfe reiterated PAO's findings were inconclusive and additional research was necessary. He made it clear their report is only a "preliminary observation."

He said autopsy results show the seven children suffered from enlarged organs and severe bleeding in the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, and intestines.

Related: PAO forensic consultant finds pattern in 5 severe dengue deaths

All the minors were listed to have never contracted dengue prior to vaccination, leading him to suspect the vaccine could be the culprit. Sanofi Pasteur, the company behind the Dengvaxia vaccine, has said children who received the vaccine but have never had dengue might contract a "severe form" of the disease.

Two of the children PAO examined died in 2016, while five died in 2017.

Apart from the pattern in the condition of the children, Erfe also found all died within 48 hours of showing symptoms of severe dengue.

"Ang tingin ko kasi ganito: ang pattern kasi, mabilis e. From the onset of symptoms — fever, abdominal pain, headache — patay kaagad yung bata within 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours — this is something else... This is not your usual dengue," said Erfe. "Kaya nga we are asking itong mga experts, pag-aralan niyo. Tingnan niyo ang record ulit. Tingnan niyo bakit napakabilis nung course of the disease," he added.

[Here's what I think:The disease develops quickly. From having symptoms of fever, abdominal pain, headache — the child dies within 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours — this is something else... this is not your usual dengue. This is why we are asking experts to study this. Look at the records again. Figure out why the disease quickly progresses.]

The Department of Health (DOH) has also tapped the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to conduct a separate autopsy on 14 children who had been given Dengvaxia. Only four of the 14 listed dengue as a cause of death. The PGH has yet to reveal its findings.

Responding to criticism about PAO's qualifications to conduct such autopsies, Erfe said most autopsies in the Philippines are conducted by non-pathologists.

He also clarified that while there were no pathologists on their team, they tapped pathologists at a training hospital to examine tissue samples from the bodies.

He added one did not need to be a pathologist to draw out the supposed pattern among the victims.

"These are gross findings that we're saying: bleeding, enlargement of the organs. Do you need four years of training to determine (an) enlarged organ... something that can be seen by the naked eye?" he raised.

Seven bodies examined

Of the seven minors examined by PAO, at least four were from Bataan, including two from the town of Mariveles, one from Balanga City, and at least one from Bagac town.

The minor from Bagac was a student athlete, whose body had to be exhumed.

Another child examined was 10-year-old Angielica Pestilos, who was vaccinated in September last year and died in December. While her death certificate attributed the death to "systemic lupus," Erfe said photos of her clinical abstract showed severe hemorrhagic dengue.

CNN Philippines has requested PAO for a copy of the full detailed report.

PhilHealth Director Anthony Leachon also criticized the government on Monday for its inability to provide a masterlist of those who took the vaccine.

PAO Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta in December said they are planning to file criminal, civil, and administrative complaints against those behind the government immunization program that administered the drug to over 800,000 Filipino students.

CNN Philippines digital producer Yvette Morales and correspondent Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this story.