The world’s first public dengue vaccination program was launched in the Philippines on Monday as nurses began injecting the first batch of a million children with a French drug to combat the disease.
Several hundreds of children aged nine to 9 to 10 queued at a public school in eastern Manila for the injections, capping a 20-year, 1.5-billion-euro effort by French drug manufacturer Sanofi to develop the vaccine.
“We are the first country to introduce, adopt and implement the first-ever dengue vaccine through the public health system and under public school settings,” Health Secretary Janette Garin said.
The Philippines in December approved the vaccine, the first to be licensed globally to combat the mosquito-borne disease for people aged between nine and 45.
Zelin Joice Carungay, 9, cried briefly as she and her classmates fell in line for the vaccine on teacher’s orders.
“I’m terrified of needles but they told us we need it to avoid dengue,” the girl said.
“In the end, it felt nothing more than an ant’s bite,” the relieved child said afterwards.
Dengue or hemorrhagic fever, the world’s most common mosquito-borne virus, infects an estimated 390 million people in more than 120 countries each year, killing more than 25,000, according to the World Health Organization.
Symptoms are often mild but more than two million people annually develop more serious symptoms–which can involve severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, a rash, pain in the joints, muscles or bones and leaking blood vessels.
Asia is home to some 70 percent of cases worldwide.
In the Philippines 200,000 cases were reported in 2013, according to Sanofi.
The company said the vaccine should prevent eight out of 10 dengue hospitalizations and up to 93 percent of severe hemorrhagic dengue fever cases.
“This initiative sends a strong message to the rest of the… world that dengue vaccination is a critical addition to integrated disease prevention efforts,” Sanofi noted in a statement.
Of 17,000 people who were injected with the vaccine in the Philippines in February as part of the clinical study, just 27 developed side effects, proving it was an effective vaccine, Health Undersecretary Vicente Belizario told reporters.