Panel to review dengue vaccine programme amid Philippines scandal

Task force will conduct a thorough review of the dengue vaccination programme which started in March 2016

Manila: The Philippines government has appointed a panel of experts to review its dengue immunisation programme amid concerns the vaccine used in the country could have adverse effects on children.

More than 830,000 students nationwide had already received Dengvaxia, the vaccine produced by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur.

“The Department of Health [DOH] has created a task force for the management of concerns related to the school-based immunisation initiative using the dengue vaccine,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.

The task force is made up of top DOH officials, members of its regional offices, and attached agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and the National Children’s Hospital.

The task force has been ordered to conduct a thorough review of the dengue vaccination programme, which started in March 2016.

For years, tropical Philippines has contended with the effects of the mosquito-borne dengue virus. Hundreds of deaths have been blamed on the disease every year.

In 2015, Sanofi-Pasteur introduced Dengvaxia, which it said would guard against the disease.

In 2016, the Philippines was the first country in Asia to announce that it would use the newly developed serum to inoculate millions of children.

Some 800,000 students were given Dengvaxia shots but, in recent weeks, Sanofi Pasteur came out with an announcement that the vaccine could worsen the effects of dengue in patients who had no previous history of the disease.

“Based on up to six years of clinical data, the new analysis evaluated long-term safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia in people who had been infected with dengue before vaccination and those who had not … For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” Sanofi-Pasteur said in an official statement dated November 29, 2017.

The task force will also oversee an in-depth evaluation of the new evidence on safety provided by Sanofi-Pasteur.

Duque said a legal team will assist the task force to look into the accountability of Sanofi Pasteur, which initially claimed the vaccine was safe and effective.

Likewise the government is also demanding that the pharmaceutical giant return the money paid for the vaccine.

“We will demand the refund of the P3 billion [Dh217 million] paid for the Dengvaxia, and that Sanofi set up an indemnification fund to cover the hospitalisation and medical treatment for all children who might have severe dengue,” Duque declared.

Non-governmental organisation Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) condemned officials of the previous administration under President Benigno Aquino III for the purchase of Dengvaxia.

“We are appalled at how the DOH under the term of Aquino III and continued under President Rodrigo Duterte could risk the lives of children over a vaccine,” it said citing a July 2016 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that said such vaccine may be ineffective or theoretically increase the risk for severe dengue illness among those who are seronegative at the first time of vaccination regardless of age,” said Dr Eleanor A. Jara, co-convener of CPRH.

Jara also pointed to the Aquino government’s haste in closing the multibillion peso deal with Sanofi-Pasteur.

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