Philippines: Dengue vaccine may be linked to 3 deaths

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The Philippine Health Ministry has said in a statement that its inquiry into the deaths of 14 children injected with Dengvaxia — the world’s first dengue vaccine — had found no conclusive proof it had caused any of the fatalities, but that in three cases there was a causal association.

“They died of dengue even [though] they were given Dengvaxia. Two of them may have died because of vaccine failure,” Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo told a news conference.

Read more: Dengue — a closer look at a spreading fever

Nine others died of reasons unrelated to dengue, while the cause of two other deaths could not be determined, he said.

The Health Ministry halted Dengvaxia immunizations in November and set up a 10-member panel of experts to determine if the drug had been directly connected to the deaths of the 14 children after they were given the vaccine.

“These findings strengthen the decision of the Department of Health to stop the vaccine. It has failed in some children,” Domingo said.

“Dengvaxia is not ready for mass vaccinations and we would need three to five more years to watch and monitor if there would be other adverse reactions from the vaccine,” he said.

The 14 children were among the 830,000 who got the vaccine as part of the world’s first public dengue immunization program in 2016 and 2017.

The dengue death rate in the Philippines is 60 times higher than the global rate, with 732 deaths last year.

Panic reducing willingness to immunize

After the drugmaker’s French company Sanofi said in November that Dengvaxia could increase the risk of severe disease in people who had never been exposed to the virus, some parents alleged the vaccine had caused the deaths of their children.

Immunization rates for polio, chicken pox, tetanus and other diseases are significantly down from previous years since November, Domingo said.

On Saturday, Sanofi said the inquiry’s findings confirmed there is currently no evidence directly linking the Dengvaxia vaccine to any of the 14 deaths.

The Philippines has already fined Sanofi a symbolic $2,000 (€1,650), citing violations in product registration and marketing.

Domingo said the panel’s findings would be shared with the Justice Department, which is considering cases against those responsible for the mass immunization program.

Mosquito-borne dengue is the world’s fastest-growing infectious disease, afflicting up to 100 million people worldwide, causing half a million life-threatening infections and killing about 20,000 people, mostly children, each year.

jbh/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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