World Health Organization backs Philippines suspension of Sanofi's dengue vaccine

Dr. Jaime Bernadas DOH-Central Visayas director

Dr. Jaime Bernadas DOH-Central Visayas director

Amid mounting public concern, Sanofi explained its "new findings" at a news conference in Manila but did not say why action was not taken after a World Health Organization report in mid-2016 that identified the risk it was now flagging.

With the vaccine now widely available, the Philippines health authority rushed to vaccinate almost 734,000 children, as part of a program that cost the government 3.5 billion pesos.

"Cases of dengue patients is up by 15% this year compared to last year covering the period of January 1-November 27, but the deaths due to the dreaded disease is lower", Provincial Health Office (PHO) head Dr. Ana De Guzman said.

"As far as we know, as far as we are made aware, there are no reported deaths that are related to dengue vaccination", said Ruby Dizon, medical director at Sanofi Pasteur Philippines.

The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday it supported the decision by the Philippines to suspend vaccinations with Dengvaxia until more information was available.

Sanofi officials said on Monday in Manila that there had been no reported deaths related to the vaccine which was used to immunize almost 734,000 children aged 9 and over in the Philippines.

"These included the following: first, use of the vaccine should only be considered in areas where a high proportion (preferably at least 70%) of the community had already been exposed to the virus; second, the vaccine should only be provided to people 9 years of age and above; and third, people being vaccinated should receive 3 doses", it said.

De Guzman said the PHO is "strengthening the campaign for the 4S program of the government" and urges the public to do so.

The vaccine so far has been approved in 19 countries and launched in 11, Sanofi said.

Brazil confirmed it already had recommended restricting use of the vaccine to those previously infected with dengue but had not suspended it entirely.

Anvisa did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the Health Ministry.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said that he would tap the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to initiate a fact-finding investigation to determine possible accountabilities of officials behind the purchase that was approved by former health chief Janette Garin. Since past year, 733,713 children have been vaccinated by the Department of Health in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne tropical disease that kills about 20,000 people a year and infects hundreds of millions.

While Sanofi's Dengvaxia is the first-ever approved vaccine for dengue, scientists already recognized it was not ideal and did not protect equally against the four different types of the virus in clinical tests.

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