Philippines may use Dengvaxia again
Philippines is still open to allowing the use of the dengue vaccine again if experts agree to recommend it to combat the rising number of cases of the mosquito-borne disease in the country, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
“That has to be discussed thoroughly and extensively. We need experts to support any call for the return of Dengvaxia,” Panelo said in response to a proposal by Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a former health secretary, to make the vaccine available anew to the public.
He noted, however, that health experts were divided over the benefits of the vaccine.
The Department of Health (DOH) stopped its massive dengue immunization program using Dengvaxia in late 2017 after its manufacturer, the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, said patients who had no prior exposure to the dengue virus could suffer severe symptoms.
More than 800,000 public school children had already been inoculated under the P3.5-billion immunization program, which began during the Aquino administration, by the time it was halted. Sanofi later reimbursed P1.16 billion to the government for the unused vaccines.
The aborted mass vaccination triggered congressional inquiries and lawsuits, including graft charges against former president Benigno Aquino III, Garin and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, among other people.
The Public Attorney’s Office also filed homicide complaints against health officials for the deaths of dozens of children allegedly caused by Dengvaxia. But in January 2019, the DOH said no death had been confirmed to have been directly caused by the vaccine.
Garin told reporters on Wednesday that the country would not be suffering from the current dengue outbreak if the government had not discontinued its immunization program using Dengvaxia.
The vaccination program, she said, was intended to reduce hospitalization by 80 percent and bring down the severity of the disease by 93 percent. Some people will still suffer from dengue but, like in Brazil, the cases will be mild, she added.
She noted that Dengvaxia was recently included in WHO’s biennial list of “essential medicines.”
Philippines has declared a national alert on July 15 due to the nationwide spike in the number of dengue cases.
The DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau reported 8,295 dengue cases in just a week (July 7-13), 53 percent more than the figure for the same period last year.
As of July 13, there had already been more than 130,000 reported dengue cases nationwide, with 561 deaths, or almost double than last year’s. Close to 30,000 cases were children aged 5 to 9.
Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo on Wednesday said all the DOH regional directors would meet in Manila on Friday to determine what other measures could be taken to stop the surge of dengue cases.