Task force to probe dengue immunization pushed

BY PRINCE GOLEZ

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MANILA – Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito proposed the creation of a task force that will probe the Department of Health’s dengue immunization campaign.

The task force shall conduct a “thorough, comprehensive and all-angle investigation” into the procurement of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia and its administration to some 700,000 children.

“I am recommending that the task force be composed of representatives from the Department of Health, World Health Organization, Philippine Medical Association, and medical societies, academe, and noted medical and health experts,” Ejercito said yesterday.

The vaccine is at a center of a safety row after new data showed it could worsen dengue in some cases, prompting the government to suspend its immunization program.

Ejercito also sought a Senate inquiry into the dengue immunization program.

Officials from WHO, which supported the suspension of the immunization program, will be in the Philippines on Dec. 12 and 13 to investigate, he said.

“I believe that the observation and analysis of WHO officials, plus the report and recommendation of the task force … will give me a wider grasp and understanding of the problem which will help me a lot in my inquiry,” said Ejercito.

In a statement, WHO said, “Like many others in the Philippines, WHO is awaiting the expert analysis of new data and advice about its implications for use of the vaccine.”

“In the meantime, WHO supports the Philippines Department of Health’s (DOH) decision to suspend the ongoing vaccination program until more information is available,” WHO said. “This is appropriate in the circumstances.”

‘LOW RISK’

Sanofi Pasteur, manufacturer of Dengvaxia, said the risk of severe dengue occurring in previously uninfected people given the vaccine was around two in 1,000, and these individuals recovered with treatment.

Answering criticism about delays in reporting problems, Sanofi said it had only been able to conduct a detailed analysis to determine the impact of previous dengue infection this year, after co-developing a new assay with the University of Pittsburgh.

“The increased risk identified from the new analysis translated to two additional cases of ‘severe dengue’ out of 1,000 previously dengue-uninfected people vaccinated over five years of follow-up,” the French drug manufacturer said in an emailed statement. “In this group, all fully recovered with proper medical treatment.”

CLARIFICATIONS

Ejercito said he was “puzzled” and “surprised” that Dengvaxia was administered to schoolchildren even though the European Medicines Agency has yet to approve it.

“I am calling on the DOH to undertake surveillance of the kids injected with the vaccine and identify and monitor the condition of those who had not been infected prior to their vaccination,” he said.

“The DOH should also verify reports of deaths which are being connected by some to Dengvaxia vaccine,” he added.

Sanofi Pasteur Philippines already denied that the reported deaths were caused by the vaccine and called them “misinformation.”

“Contrary to what they are saying, there are no reported deaths related to the dengue vaccine,” its medical director, Dr. Ruby Dizon, had said. “An independent expert committee had judged the deaths as not related to the vaccinations.”

Hindi nakukuha iyong severe dengue from the vaccine. Hindi dahil nabakunahan kaya nagkaroon ng severe dengue,” she added. “Iyong virus nakukuha iyan sa exposure, hindi sa vaccine.” (With reports from Reuters/PN)