Philippines halts sale of dengue vaccine as Sanofi downplays risk

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The outcry of dengue in Southeast Asia and the confusion and concern regarding its vaccine in the Philippines is something people in and moving to the region must be wary of, as many may be rushing to protect themselves and their family from various exotic diseases.

"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.

Sanofi's announcement late Friday that it would shutter its C. difficile vaccine program closed a damaging week for the pharma. They added that Dengvaxia immunized approximately 734,000 children aged 9 years and above in the country.

On Monday, there were reports that the Philippine Justice Department had ordered an investigation into the government-mandated vaccination of more than 730,000 children over new evidence received from the French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The safety fears involve possible increased risk to people who had not previously been exposed to the dengue virus prior to vaccination with Dengvaxia.

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.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had apparently already flagged the risks of the vaccine in 2016 in a report, in which it recommended that the vaccine only be used in people who have had a prior dengue infection. After Sanofi announced these risks are real last week, the Philippine government first suspended and has now stopped the vaccine program.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin, who implemented the program under the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino, said she welcomed the investigation.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there had been no reported case of severe dengue infection since the vaccine was administered and urged the public "not to spread information that may cause undue alarm". However, under moderate transmission, hospitalizations of vaccinated children increased three years after vaccination, compared to unvaccinated children. An analysis of long-term clinical data had revealed that, in individuals who had never contracted dengue, the vaccine could make subsequent infections more severe.

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