Health Department questions effectivity of suspended dengue vaccine

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 8) — The 30-month protection from dengue promised by a controversial vaccine was questioned Friday by the Health Department, following the hospitalization of a 12-year-old girl for severe dengue who had received the vaccine.

A 12-year-old girl from Tarlac without prior dengue infection was among those vaccinated with Dengvaxia, said Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. She was hospitalized for severe dengue only four months after she received the third dose of under the vaccination program, he added.

Dengvaxia, manufactured by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, is administered in three doses and is said to give up 30 months of protection from dengue. Sanofi Pasteur on Monday said Dengvaxia has a "clear and sustained benefit of being vaccinated with the dengue vaccine up to six years (72 months) following the first injection."

Related: Sanofi: No reported deaths due to Dengvaxia

Speaking at a news briefing in Malacanang, Duque said the 12-year-old girl received her first dose on March 2016, her second on October 2016, and the third and last shot in August.

She was hospitalized this week, four months after the last shot due to severe dengue with hypotension or abnormal low blood pressure and bradycardia, or an abnormally slow heart, the Health Secretary said.

"I started counting. If you start counting from March 2016 to when we found out the case this week, that's like 20 months. That's a far cry from the 30 months they were saying," Duque said in a media briefing. 

Questions to Dengvaxia's effectivity further arises, if one starts counting the months of protection from the last dose received this August. Dengvaxia has since been ordered suspended from use, sale, and distribution in the Philippines.

"If you were to take the last date of vaccination, which is two to three months ago, that is really, truly a cause for concern," Duque said. It has been 16 months since her first and four months since her last vaccination.

Duque said that like all medicines, there is no certain guarantee that you will be shielded from infection even after receiving a vaccination.

"This is not a 100 percent protection. Kahit meron ka nang bakuna, you have the possibility of still contracting the infection," he said.

The task force formed by the DOH to monitor and investigate Dengvaxia will have a legal team that will look into the accountability of Sanofi.

There is "strong possibility that Sanofi did not release information on severe dengue infection in children who never had the infection but got vaccinated," Duque said.

Duque also said they will demand Sanofi Pasteur to give back the P3.5 billion the Philippine government paid for the suspended vaccine, in the wake of the health risks revealed. Sanofi will also be asked to cover the hospital expenses of those who will contract severe dengue after receiving the vaccine.

Related: DOH to demand from Sanofi full refund of P3.5 billion spent on Dengvaxia

More than 830,000 children were vaccinated under a government program launched in 2016. Sanofi Pasteur on November 29 released a new study, saying that for those who have not been previously infected by dengue and have been vaccinated with Dengvaxia, there is an increased risk of hospitalization when the person gets infected by dengue virus.

Related: Health Secretary urges ex-President Aquino, ex-DOH Sec. Garin to explain Dengvaxia procurement

Both house of Congress will begin an inquiry into Dengvaxia vaccine and the public vaccination program, which has alarmed lawmakers, health officials, and thousands of parents whose children received the vaccine.

Related: Senate to open probe on dengue vaccine scare