Alleged deaths of children due to Dengvaxia vaccine to be investigated by experts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 21) - The Health Department on Thursday said it is tapping infectious disease experts from the country's biggest state-run hospital to investigate the deaths of three children allegedly due to the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

"An expert group of pediatric infectious disease experts, together with some forensic pathologists and other specialists with no financial or intellectual ties to Sanofi Pasteur" the manufacturer of the vaccine, will be conducting the review, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.

The experts will be from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH). The Department of Health (DOH) said they are still consolidating the documents of the three children before they turn these over to the PGH. The two are 10-year-old girls, while the age and the gender of the third child are unknown.

READ: Families claim their children died due to Dengvaxia

"We have alleged deaths. I understand one from East Avenue (hospital), but we need to get and consolidate all the clinical charts and documents...That's why we said UP PGH experts will be the third party review body to exactly find out what were the circumstances attendant to the alleged death due to the Dengvaxia," Duque said in a news briefing.

Families came forward to seek accountability after their children died allegedly due to the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Some 133 children who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia have been brought to the hospital, said Health Undersecretary Herminigildo Valle. Thirty-six of these were due to dengue, but Valle said it was not clear how many of these cases were severe.

Duque said the hotline set up for Dengvaxia inquiries since December 6 has already received around 700 calls.

Public hospitals are "prepared to handle and manage severe dengue and other potential adverse events following immunization," the health secretary added.

"We have long instituted dengue fast lanes in our DOH hospitals. DOH has also set up 24/7 hotlines on the dengue vaccine, apart from creating dengue assistance desks in the DOH central office and its regional offices in Regions 3, 4A, NCR, and Cebu in Region 7," Duque said.

The regions are where the dengue vaccination program was implemented.

He also appealed to guardians of Dengvaxia-vaccinated children to monitor their health.

"At the early signs of dengue, I would like to reiterate that please bring them to the nearest health facility so that they can be properly managed and further complications avoided," Duque said.

The controversy over the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine blew up after pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur said on November 29 that the vaccine may cause "severe disease" for people who have not yet had dengue.

READ: TIMELINE: The Dengvaxia controversy

It also prompted the DOH to suspend the vaccination program, and the FDA to suspend the vaccine's sale and distribution.

READ: FDA suspends sale, distribution of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia

Both houses of the Congress have also initiated investigations into the vaccination program, zooming in on how the Dengvaxia was procured at a cost of P3.5 billion.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin started the immunization program in 2016.

READ: Mother accuses Garin, DOH of endangering children's lives due to Dengvaxia

READ: Sanofi clarifies 'misconceptions,' insists Dengvaxia 'safe'