• Advocates seek expansion of dengue vaccine program

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    VACCINATION advocates—the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV)—have called for the continuation and expansion of the dengue vaccination program initiated by the Department of Health (DOH), after a review showed that only two-thirds of the targeted students have received the potentially life-saving vaccine so far.

    The vaccination program was started by the DOH in April of this year targeting all Grade 4 students 9 years and older in public schools in the National Capital Region (NCR), Region III and Region IV-A (Calabarzon).

    A review of the program, however, showed that the vaccination coverage has only reached 67 percent of the targeted children in the six months it has been carried out.

    On a more positive note, adverse events following the first dose of dengue vaccination were within the expected range and no safety concerns were found, the foundation reported.

    “Expansion of dengue vaccination to more areas in the Philippines will provide protection against dengue in children 9 years and older who have been found to be most affected by dengue. There is a need for continuous surveillance of dengue as well as adverse events related to vaccination,” Dr. Cecilia Montalban, President of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, said in a statement.

    Dr. Lulu C. Bravo, Executive Director of PFV, emphasized the need for intensive information, education, and communication on the importance of dengue vaccination and of adhering to other disease preventive measures. It is also important to disseminate IEC materials on dengue vaccination to health care workers and to the public. This will promote a better understanding of dengue prevention and control as well as the value of vaccination.

    Lingering questions

    The Philippines is the first country to introduce the dengue vaccination program, following more than a decade of efficacy and safety studies involving more than 30,000 children in 10 endemic countries.

    Despite positive research results and the public backing of the World Health Organization, however, some skepticism still remains about the effectiveness of the vaccine.

    In August, the DOH announced it was conducting an efficacy review of the vaccination program being carried out among the schoolchildren in the three targeted regions.

    “DOH is monitoring (dengue) vaccine efficacy because of earlier reports that the current dengue vaccine has less than 50 percent protection against dengue serotypes 1 and 2, which are the most common circulating serotypes in the country,” DOH Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial explained at the time.

    Part of the review included investigation of some claims that previous infection prior to vaccination and circulating serotypes can affect the dengue vaccine efficacy, Ubial added.

    In response to a follow-up inquiry last week, however, the DOH says it has not yet found a reason to modify its program.

    Meanwhile, despite the introduction of the vaccine, the DOH said that efforts to eliminate breeding places should be continued and intensified to counter rising cases of dengue, particularly in Calabarzon, the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, and Davao Region.

    Dengue is one of several vector-borne infections carried by mosquitoes of the Aedes family, and has a clinical spectrum of illness ranging from mild fever to severe hemorrhagic shock potentially leading to death.

    The PFV stressed in its statement that dengue results in a heavy burden on the health care system and financial costs to the health sector, particularly during outbreaks, as well as on family expenditures.

    “While it is recognized that environmental sanitation, vector control and public health education are key public health measures against dengue, the vaccine against dengue has been found to be safe and efficacious and is a major breakthrough in the prevention and control of dengue,” it added.

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