THE Senate Committee on Health and Demography is going to conduct an investigation into the Philippine Department of Health (DOH)’s dengue vaccination program, according to Senator JV Ejercito.
Ejercito on Friday, December 1 called on for a senate probe into the DOH’s procurement of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
This was after Sanofi, the vaccine’s manufacturer, released earlier this week an analysis which found out that Dengvaxia pose greater risk for people who have not been infected with dengue before they were vaccinated.
Describing the recent discovery of the vaccine’s effect as “disturbing,” Ejercito said he is eyeing joint investigation with the Blue Ribbon Committee by January 2018 to find out possible irregularities in the procurement of the vaccine.
“As chair of the Senate Committee on Health, I intend to call for an investigation on the disturbing findings related to the dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia,” the senator said.
Apart from possible irregularities, the Senate panel will also determine the government’s next steps to protect those who may be affected negatively by the dengue vaccine.
“We’ll let the experts and doctors and the DOH deal with the issue first then will wait for their findings and recommendations,” the senator added.
In a press statement on Wednesday, November 29, Sanofi announced that Dengvaxia is only safe and effective for people who had already been infected by dengue prior to their vaccination.
“Based on up to six years of clinical data, the new analysis evaluated long-term safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia in people who had been infected with dengue prior to vaccination and those who had not. The analysis confirmed that Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection,” Sanofi said in as 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,” it added.
Following the disclosure of health risks, the DOH suspended its dengue vaccination program.
“In the light of this new analysis, the DOH will place the dengue vaccination program on hold while review and consultation are ongoing with experts and key stakeholders and the WHO (World Health Organization),” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a media briefing on Friday.
Last year, more than 700,000 children in the country’s three highly endemic regions—Regions III Central Luzon, IV-A Calabarzon, and Metro Manila—were administered Dengvaxia in line with the recommendation of the WHO for mass vaccination.
According to Duque, 8 to 10 percent or about 70,000 of those children have not had dengue yet. Despite this, the health secretary said there has been no report of death among those who got vaccinated as of present.
The Philippine government has spent P3.5 billion for the mass immunization program, which was launched in April 2016 under then Secretary Janette Garin, and was already paid in full.
The move, however, was questioned by health experts, as Dengvaxia has yet to be approved by the WHO and studies on the vaccine’s safety have not been completed at the time.
Asked if plunder charges will be filed against officials who implemented the immunization program, Duque said the documents and processes involved in the implementation are still being reviewed.
“That we cannot answer unless we have already reviewed all the documents and contracts and analyze all the circumstances surrounding the issue of Dengvaxia, since it was began in 2016,” said Duque, who was only only appointed to the DOH by President Rodrigo Duterte in October of this year.
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. The Philippines is also the 1st country in Asia to approve the vaccine for individuals aged 9 and 45 years old. n