THE Department of Health (DoH) has ordered the suspension of its dengue immunization program after its supplier revealed that its vaccine might cause a more severe case of fever, a symptom of the disease.
The DoH announcement came after receiving a preliminary briefing on November 29 from Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, which said that while the vaccine helped patients previously infected over the last 30 months, those who had no prior infection might in the long term be at risk of contracting a more severe case of dengue fever.
“The analysis confirmed that Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection,” Sanofi Pasteur said in a statement.
“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.”
In a news briefing on Friday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd said that in view of the Sanofi statement, there was a need for the pharmaceutical firm to provide updates.
Duque said that Health Assistant Secretary Lyndon Lee Suy would monitor the DoH regional offices, which would meet with the health care providers, local health units, local and national hospitals and private hospitals.
The DoH will also consult with experts, key stakeholders and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding Dengvaxia.
Duque said that as of November 7, the DoH administered had at least one dose of the vaccine to more than 700,000 individuals, including children aged 9 and above, from Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Metro Manila.
He assured the public that those without prior infection but were injected with the vaccine would still be protected against developing dengue fever for at least 30 months.
“Based on the information that we gathered in the meeting with the ExeCom (Executive Committee) of the DoH on protecting the benefits of Dengvaxia, given the first dose, whether or not there was prior infection, there is still a 30-month protective period,” Duque said.
“The severe disease does not mean that it will happen to anyone. Again, we will anticipate it and the advisory and updates from Sanofi and WHO,” he added.
Duque said there have been no reported cases of severe dengue infection to those without prior infection but who have received the first dose of the vaccine.
“The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts are studying this as of the moment and we will meet with them on December 12 and 13 and there we will be given additional guidance,” said Duque.
To prevent similar problems, Duque said that the DoH would implement a framework involving the profiling of vaccines and a surveillance mechanism.
This will include mandatory history taking on immunization of the vaccines, mandatory reporting of all hospitalization cases of vaccines, mandatory investigation, a five-year post-vaccination surveillance period, and a review of the DoH Immunization Guidelines.
“The DoH assures the public that it is serious in carrying out its mandate to always guard the health and well-being of its constituents,” Duque said.
“Thus, it will ensure that vaccines are always safe and effective to optimize its health benefits.”
Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo said there were still some 789,000 doses stored in the warehouse, costing about P789 million.
Makati stops vaccinations
Following the lead of the DoH, Makati Mayor Abigail Binay stopped the anti-dengue vaccination drive in the city.
Binay ordered Dr. Bernard Sese, the Makati Health Department officer in charge, to coordinate with the city’s Department of Education to track down students and employees who were injected with the vaccine.
“The best thing we can do right now is [to closely]monitor the health of students as well as employees who received the anti-dengue vaccines.
We will track down everyone who has been vaccinated and monitor their condition for any developments,” Binay said in a statement.
Makati launched its vaccination drive on August 14 for children aged 9 to 14. There were reportedly 65,000 units of anti-dengue vaccines released by the DoH and distributed to cover the city’s health centers, public schools and high schools.
Sese said the schedule of vaccination in several public schools would remain suspended until DoH gave the go-signal to resume.
The immunization program was spearheaded by Secretary Janette Garin during the Aquino administration and was launched originally as a school-based program.
The Philippines is one of 11 countries that approved the commercial release of Dengvaxia, along with Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand.
An average of 200,000 cases of dengue are reported every year. Dengue is an acute viral infection, which is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito and may result in death if left untreated.
with ARIC JOHN SY CUA AND JASI DE MATEO