World's first dengue vaccination in Philippines sees few ill-effects

An elementary student grimacing as a nurse administers an anti-dengue vaccine at Parang Elementary School in Marikina, west of Manila on April 4, 2016.
An elementary student grimacing as a nurse administers an anti-dengue vaccine at Parang Elementary School in Marikina, west of Manila on April 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The Philippines' health ministry has said that nearly 150,000 children in the country have now received doses of the world's first dengue vaccine.

Only 240 children - or 0.16 per cent - suffered adverse effects such as fever, dizziness and headaches, health officials said at a news briefing yesterday.

The ministry said that 148,431 fourth-grade pupils in 44 public schools had received the first dose of Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine developed by French drugmaker Sanofi.

"We are on the right track," Health Minister Janette Garin said.

The ministry plans to give a million children their first dose by June in a 3.5 billion peso (S$103 million) programme, Ms Garin said. The vaccine is given in three doses.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease that infects about 390 million people globally each year. It causes a severe flu-like illness marked by painful joints and extreme fatigue and is lethal in 2.5 per cent of cases.

So far this year, 33,748 dengue cases have been recorded in the Philippines. In Singapore, 6,338 cases were reported in the first quarter of the year.

Last week, the World Health Organisation recommended the use of Dengvaxia in countries where dengue is widespread, based on a review of data from 25 clinical studies in 15 countries.

The vaccine protected two-thirds of people against dengue in those aged nine or older in two large clinical trials spanning Latin America and Asia involving more than 40,000 children and adolescents.

It was most effective at protecting against severe dengue, the potentially fatal form of the disease, preventing 93 per cent of cases.

However, "this vaccine will not really confer absolute protection against the infection", WHO representative to the Philippines Gundo Weiler said at yesterday's briefing.

Still, "countries that have a very high rate of dengue transmission can consider how this vaccine can possibly be an additional element in their dengue-control strategy", he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'World's 1st dengue vaccination sees few ill effects'. Print Edition | Subscribe