Health Department to return ₱1.4 billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccines

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The dengue vaccines are set to expire on August 2018. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) — More than ₱1 billion worth of the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine will be returned to the manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur, the Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday.

"Whatever remaining vaccines DOH has must be returned to Sanofi and the government's interest must be protected. And we must return the more 1.4 billion (pesos) worth of vaccines still in the cold storage of the RITM," Health Secretary Francisco Duque told CNN Philippines' News Night. RITM is the Regional Institute of Tropical Medicine.

Almost 800,000 vaccines remain unused and they are set to expire on August 2018, the DOH has said.

Duque said there will be a so-called "medication fund" to assist those who are hospitalized due to severe dengue.

"If the children get hospitalized, the cost of the hospitalization must be taken from such a fund," he said.

A draft of the House Committee on Health report in 2016 said that there were 997 reported cases of individuals who experienced adverse events following immunization. Thirty of them required hospitalization.

Adverse events, according to Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo refer to any physical or medical event which may happen to a child. He also said that there were nine deaths but these were not vaccine-related.

More than 800,000 children were vaccinated under a government program launched in 2016. Health officials earlier said the number of children vaccinated with Dengvaxia could be more, as it waits for its other regional offices to report.

READ: DOH: More than 800,000 children vaccinated with Dengvaxia

Health officials, parents, and lawmakers have been shaken in recent days following Sanofi Pasteur's announcement that those who received the vaccine and had never had dengue are at risk for contracting a more severe form of dengue.

"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," Sanofi Pasteur said on November 29.

Local health officials estimate that eight to 10 percent of those vaccinated in the Philippines, or up to 80,000 individuals, had no prior history of dengue.

"We need to get hold of the masterlist, in tandem with DepEd (Department of Education) officials," Duque said

The Health Department spent some ₱3.5 billion (US$ 70 million) on the vaccines manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur. The Philippines and Brazil are the two countries that initiated widespread public Dengvaxia vaccination programs.

The vaccine was expected to reduce dengue cases in the Philippines by over 24 percent in five years, said a study by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health.

Duque said he is leaving it up to lawmakers to determine who is responsible for the program and the distribution of the vaccine.

"We will leave it to Congress, and on Monday the (Senate) Blue Ribbon Committee is convening," he said.

The Justice Department is also conducting its own investigation.

Parent of severe dengue victim asks for justice

Among the parents distressed by the controversy is Noel de Guzman, who said his 10-year-old daughter Christine Mae, died of severe dengue in October 2016, around six months after she was injected with Dengvaxia.

"Hindi po siya sakitin na bata. Malusog po ang batang 'yun. Kaya po nung nagkasakit siya, hindi ko po inaakala na diretso na po 'yun," de Guzman said.

[Translation: She was not a sickly child. She was healthy. So when she fell ill, I didn't expect it to lead to her death.]

Christine Mae's death certificate indicated she died of severe dengue and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, a process in which blood clots form in small blood vessels throughout the body leading to multiple organ dysfunction.

De Guzman plans to file charges against Sanofi and health officials behind the mass vaccination program.

"Sa gobyerno, sana matulungan nila ako na magkaroon ng hustisya ang pagkamatay ng anak ko. Na maparusahan kung sino man ang puno't dulo ng mga anomalya at nagsaksak ng vaccine, kung saan man nanggaling ang gamot na yan na makakasama sa karamihan ng mga estudyante. Hindi na po sila naawa," he added.

[Translation: To the government, I hope they can help me find justice for my dead daughter. I hope whoever is the root cause of these anomalies and the mass vaccination, the creators of the vaccine that could cause harm to students. There was no remorse.]

In a draft report of the House Committee on Health in 2016, a doctor claimed that in accordance with medical studies, a dengue-related event after vaccination is vaccination-caused.

However, the Health Department on December 2 cited a new document from Sanofi and the World Health Organization, saying that the vaccine provided for a two-and-a-half year protection against severe dengue manifestations.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.