A worldwide network of journalists gives me instant news on any topic of my choice. They work for me for free. And they're reliable compared to the blogger with six million followers.
The network is called Google Alerts, familiar to my friends in the field of writing and research. But anyone can use it, even a grieving housewife with a computer or smartphone connected to the web.
When I learned about Google Alerts years ago, I set it to give me news reports about the megamouth shark. So, whenever this mysterious fish would get caught in the ocean, or land dead on a beach, I would receive a short note about it in my inbox. When I clicked the title, the full report would open in my Mozilla Firefox.
I've been following the discovery of this rare, mysterious deep-sea dweller for almost 20 years and so far I have seen reports and pictures of it in various places: Indonesia, California, Indian Ocean, South Africa, Philippines, Taiwan, Ecuador, Sumatra, Mexico, Brazil, China, the disputed "Sea of China", and Vietnam.
Recently, I've been using Google Alerts to give me information about climate change and science discoveries. As usual, the reports arrive from all over the planet.
In March 2018, I began a new research using this same app because I was curious about an allegation of Atty. Persida Rueda-Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO). She said that the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia is "linked to the deaths" of around 60 children in the Philippines.
My thinking was if Dengvaxia is a killer drug, it should also cause casualties in other parts of the world. Wikipedia notes that in 2016, it "became commercially available in 11 countries: Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Guatemala, Peru, Thailand, and Singapore."
To my surprise, however, about 90 percent of the news reports about "dengue" and "dengvaxia" that I've been receiving from Google Alerts are coming from the Philippines. They usually describe Acosta's claim and opposite views from experts of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH). But the search phrases "death dengvaxia" and "died dengvaxia" always point to the Philippines. Even the Wikipedia article "Dengvaxia controversy" [as of November 9, 2018], which I thought would be about an international phenomenon, is solely about this drug in the Philippines.
Why are these alleged Dengvaxia deaths happening only in our country? Why are there no reports of the same deaths in Mexico where Dengvaxia was first used, where one million doses of the drug was made available in 2016? Are Filipino citizens gifted with a special trait that makes us vulnerable to Dengvaxia? Is severe dengue an exclusive Filipino disease? Is it tied to our Filipino citizenship and political boundary? Or is there a flaw in the way Dengvaxia is used in our country?
Obviously, the Dengvaxia controversy requires sober medical investigation. Unfortunately, Acosta appears to be doing reverse science. She has jumped to a conclusion, and disagrees with anyone who gives contrary evidence.
This behavior is called confirmation bias. Scott Plous in his book, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, wrote: "Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses."
But Acosta has also done something strange, unnecessary and wrong:
On January 22, 2018 -- take note of the dates in this paragraph -- a measles outbreak was declared in Davao City, the hometown of president Rodrigo Duterte. The outbreak appeared to have been caused by the reluctance of the parents to have their children vaccinated because of the Dengvaxia scare. Despite this incident, Acosta on January 24, 2018 posted a meme that says "VACCINES BIO WEAPONS". On February 2, 2018, Rappler published "Kid's vaccination rate down to 60% after Dengvaxia scare -- DOH". Part of the report says the Department of Health "appeals to parents to continue getting 'tried and tested' vaccines for their children to avoid diseases like polio, diphtheria, measles, and tetanus. On March 20, 2018, Rappler updated its report: "After the Davao City [measles outbreak], the Davao Region, Zamboanga City, a barangay in Taguig City, Negros Oriental, and Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental also declared an outbreak."
UPDATE: "Measles outbreak declared in the Philippines" (BBC, February 7, 2019)
Whatever is Acosta's motive for posting the meme is anyone's guess. It doesn't help the investigation in anyway. Now, the Philippines is on panic mode, while the rest of the world has moved on. Dengvaxia is in the process of being accepted for use in Europe and the United States:
Several hours after I submitted this article to the editor, Google Alerts gave me a fresh one. It's interesting because it shows that our Dengvaxia debate is being ignored by a large organization in Europe. The report is published by caribbeanbusiness.com but it is fast appearing in other sites:
"SAN JUAN – The European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has adopted a positive opinion for the marketing authorization of biopharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur’s dengue vaccine, recommending its approval in Europe.
"According to the Associated Press, the recommendation comes 'despite concerns about the vaccine’s wide use and a lawsuit in the Philippines alleging that it was linked to three deaths.'"
On October 31, 2018, Precision Vaccinations published this report: "The first and only vaccine against the dengue virus, Dengvaxia, has been granted the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Priority Review status.
"The FDA has set a Prescription Drug User Fee Act action date of May 1, 2019.
"Sanofi Pasteur's dengue vaccine candidate is considered an unmet medical need by the FDA.
"Dengue virus is endemic in the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands."