Vaccinated Filipino youth now at risk of getting severe dengue

A student from Parang Elementary School gets a shot of Dengvaxia, the world’s first-ever dengue vaccine. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

By Mara Cepeda/rappler.com – Health advocates once again slammed the Department of Health’s (DOH) school-based immunization program after Sanofi Pasteur said its dengue vaccine poses more risk for people who have no prior infection.

Dr Anthony Leachon, former president of the Philippine College of Physicians Foundation, said on Thursday, November 30, that Sanofi’s advisory against its own vaccine is alarming for thousands of Filipino schoolchildren who already received their Dengvaxia shots.

“We don’t know the status of 700,000 kids vaccinated in NCR (National Capital Region), Region 4-A (Calabarzon), [and Region] 3 (Central Luzon) since they were not tested [for] previous exposure to dengue virus. We advised Congress and Senate that mass vaccination is not advisable without a rigid selection process,” he said.

“It means some of them will develop severe dengue; we don’t know who. All of them will have to live with this possibility for the rest of their lives,” added Leachon, who has 20 years of experience in pharmaceutical medicine.

On Thursday, Sanofi said new analysis of 6 years’ worth of clinical data revealed Dengvaxia could lead to “more cases of severe disease” when administered on a person who had never been infected by dengue prior the vaccination.

Former health chief Janette Garin launched the dengue school-based immunization program for Grade 4 students in 3 regions in April 2016, just 4 months after the Philippines approved the sale of the world’s first dengue vaccine.

A whopping P3.5 billion was allocated for it by the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III.

But this was met by strong criticism from various health advocates, who questioned the DOH’s decision for mass vaccination when studies on Dengvaxia was still being conducted at the time.

Garin had dispelled the public’s fears over the dengue vaccine. But a year later, Sanofi issued its announcement that confirmed the apprehensions of health advocates.

Current DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said their technical assistance office is now meeting with individual experts to determine how to proceed following Sanofi’s advisory.

But he assured the public that children’s safety is “paramount” and will be the main consideration in their decision.

Prior to Sanofi’s announcement, DOH officials under President Rodrigo Duterte’s term said they plan to expand the dengue immunization program in Central Visayas.

‘Scam of an experimental drug’

Former health undersecretary Susan Pineda Mercado took to Facebook to express her frustration over the “biggest government funded clinical-trial-masked-as-a-public-health-program scam of an experimental drug in the history of the DOH.”

“This was reckless and irresponsible from the start and the public was deceived into thinking this vaccine would protect children from dengue. The public health community has been outraged for over a year. Legal action is now necessary,” said Mercado.

A House probe into the dengue vaccination program was conducted late last year, led by Quezon 4th District Representative Angelina Tan, health committee chairperson.

“We asked that there should be proper social preparation and precautionary/screening test should be done prior to vaccination,” said Tan.

Her committee’s recommendations were already submitted in December 2016 to the good government and public accountability panel, which has the power to investigate alleged wrongdoings of government agencies and officials.

Tan said she plans to speak to the House leadership on Monday, December 4, to follow up on action on her committee’s recommendations in view of Sanofi’s advisory.

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