Pro-life groups say an anti-tetanus vaccine used in a Philippine immunization program is an abortifacient, but the government, World Health Organization (WHO) and results of initial tests refute the claim.
The controversy began a week before the Feb. 15 nationwide free immunization drive against tetanus and polio conducted by the Department of Health (DOH), when media reported claims the anti-tetanus vaccine used induces abortions.
Without naming a specific source, media initially identified "the Catholic Church" as the source of the charge that the tetanus toxoid vaccine administered by the government contains a sexual hormone that causes abortion.
The basis for the claim was determined to be a report of the World Council for Life and Family (WCLF), a coalition of pro-life and pro-family groups.
The report cited findings that the vaccine, as used by the Mexican government against tetanus was administered solely to women of reproductive age, and contains the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG).
"Gynecologists believe (the vaccine) can cause abortions by producing antibodies that attack the tetanus toxin as well as the existing pregnancy," according to the WCLF report.
Pregnant women naturally produce HCG, which helps sustain pregnancies. If HCG levels are too high, though, the body produces anti-HCG, which has the reverse effect and terminates a pregnancy.
The DOH and the WHO immediately assured the vaccine is not an abortifacient.
An advisory issued by Health Secretary Doctor Jaime Galvez Tan said the tetanus toxoid used in the DOH´s immunization program "does not contain any human choriogonadotrophic hormone."
Galvez Tan said the Absorbed Tetanus Vaccine, or tetanus toxoid, has been used by the DOH since 1983 to immunize pregnant women and their unborn children against tetanus.
"No adverse reactions such as abortions have ever been attributed to the administration of tetanus toxoid during pregnancy," he assured.
The World Health Organization likewise released a statement from Doctor S.T. Han, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, assuring people that the anti-tetanus vaccine used in the government immunization programs is safe.
"Tetanus toxoid is a very safe vaccine that has been successfully used throughout the world for over 50 years," Doctor Han stated.
"Tetanus toxoid does not contain sexual hormones," he said. "It is produced in a manufacturing process that does not include the use of any hormones."
On Feb. 17, the head of the nuclear medicine department of a private hospital in Makati, a municipality south of Manila, confirmed reports that he had tested the controversial vaccine.
Doctor Edmundo Villacorta of the Makati Medical Center said he found "insignificant" traces of HCG-like substances in samples.
"We found in three out of six vials a very small amount of HCG-like substances, which is considered insignificant," Villacorta told UCA News.
He also explained that the test was not an official research undertaking of the medical center. He said a colleague, a member of a pro-family life group in a Manila parish, brought tetanus toxoid samples and requested he test them.
The results, Villacorta said, were that three vials contained HCG-like substances of up to 7 milli-international units per cubic centimeter.
He said it would have been significant if the amounts found were in the hundreds or thousands of units per cubic centimeter.
However, he added that there have been no tests yet to determine the presence of anti-HCG in the vaccine.