Dengvaxia vaccine given to a million kids in Philippines

The Dengvaxia vaccine has been tested on a million children in the Philippines, in a 3.5-billion-peso (S$98 million) state-sponsored immunisation programme that began in April last year.

It has been given to children nine years and older in three regions on the main island of Luzon, including metropolitan Manila.

Created by French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is now available in Mexico and Brazil's Parana state as well.

Health officials here hope its use will see dengue cases fall by 24 per cent in five years. The latest available data shows that, as of August last year, the number of cases here had risen to 101,400, up 16 per cent from a year earlier. Over the period, 422 people died.

The Philippines reported a total of 200,415 cases in 2015, up from about 121,000 in 2014.

The World Health Organisation has backed the nation's use of Dengvaxia, after reviewing data.

The scheme has not progressed without hiccups. An 11-year-old boy died days after getting the vaccine, but investigations showed he died because of complications arising from congenital heart disease.

Health officials here report that only a fraction of those vaccinated have manifested adverse effects, such as fever, headaches or dizzy spells. But public health advocates warn the vaccine could increase dengue's severity, in what is called "antibody-dependent enhancement", three years down the road.

Such programmes do not come cheap either, especially for nations with small healthcare budgets.

A Philippine senator is seeking to suspend the scheme, claiming the budget for it was released without congressional oversight.

Defending the vaccine's use, Dr Lulu Bravo, who is executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, said: "There will always be people who will be against it. But what we have is scientific evidence (that the vaccine is safe). Whether the vaccine has shown efficacy... there is no vaccine that can give you 100 per cent efficacy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Dengvaxia given to a million kids in Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe