2 deaths may be due to Dengvaxia failure – experts

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Story updated to include statement of forensic pathologist Maria Cecilia Lim.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 2) — Two of 14 deaths from dengue may be linked to the vaccine Dengvaxia, reinforcing the government's decision to stop its use, an experts panel reported on Friday.

Three out of the 14 children died of what is called dengue shock syndrome after receiving the vaccine, according to the report of the Philippine General Hospital's Dengue Investigative Task Force. The report was released during a media briefing Friday.

The experts said two of the three deaths may be caused by vaccine failure.

"Tatlong kaso ang nakitaan ng causal association. Sila ay namatay sa dengue kahit sila ay nabigyan ng Dengvaxia. Dalawa sa kanila ay maaaring dulot ng vaccine failure. Kakailanganin pa ang karagdagang pagsusuri ng tissue samples upang makumpleto ang imbestigasyon," said Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo, who was also in the briefing.

[Translation: Three cases were found with causal association. They died due to dengue despite receiving Dengvaxia. Two of them were possibly caused by vaccine failure. More studies have to be done to complete the investigation.]

Based on their investigation, one child died four days after receiving Dengvaxia, so experts said the child might have had dengue already even before he was injected with the anti-dengue vaccine.  This cannot be classified as a vaccine failure.

Out of the 14 deaths, experts said three died of dengue shock syndrome; three were not related to Dengvaxia; two were inconclusive due to lack of information; and six were caused by other diseases and died within 30 days after receiving the vaccine. They did not have dengue prior to the immunization.

The experts said these findings validates the government's decision to halt the dengue mass immunization program.

"Pinagtibay nito ang naging desisyon ng departamento na itigil ang dengue immunization program dahil ang Dengvaxia ay hindi dapat ipatupad sa ilalim ng isang mass immunization program na hindi sinusuri muna kung nagkaroon na ba ng dengue ang isang bata o siya ay may ibang sakit bago nabigyan ng bakuna," Domingo said.

Lawmakers and medical experts have criticized former Aquino administration officials for the haste at which Dengvaxia was allowed for use in a large-scale immunization program despite unfinished clinical trials.

The Health Department tapped infectious disease experts from the state-run hospital to investigate the deaths allegedly due to the vaccine.

Last December 1, the government halted its dengue vaccination program that began in 2016. The decision was made after a clinical study by vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur showed those with no previous dengue infection and got vaccinated could contract "severe diseases."

More than 800,000 children were immunized with Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine.

Prior to the study of UP-PGH experts, the Public Attorney's Office has previously claimed possible links of children's deaths to Dengvaxia after their in-house autopsy team claims there are recurring patterns.

However, forensic pathologist, Maria Cecilia Lim said a doctor cannot draw assumptions by merely opening and observing dead bodies.

She said it is a more complicated process that takes time before results can be collated because it entails a close look of tissues under the microscope and a tedious correlation of existing medical histories.

"Hindi po kayang matutunan ang autopsy sa pag-attend ng lecture o pag-attend ng workshop maski mag-attend ka ng workshop ng isang taon, "Lim said.

Experts advice parents of children who died after receiving Dengvaxia to have their children's bodies examined only by legitimate forensic pathologists.

The Philippine Society of Pathologists are offering free autopsies for parents whose children died after receiving Dengvaxia.

DOH also reiterated its promise that it, together with PhilHealth, will shoulder the costs of hospitalization of those vaccinated with Dengvaxia.

"Gagawin ng DOH ang lahat ng kanyang makakaya upang mabantayan ang mga bata at mabigyan agad ng pangangalaga kung kinakailangan ng gamutan," Domingo said.

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada contributed to this report.