Dengue mass vaccination 'not that bad a situation' — expert

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Infectious disease physician Dr. Edcel Maurice Salvaña told CNN Philippines there is public confusion about the nature of Dengvaxia.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) — The issue on the controversial anti-dengue vaccine is not as bad as people believe it is, an expert claimed Monday.

"I don't think it's that bad a situation because 730,000 children were given this vaccine. But we know from data that 87 percent of these children have already had dengue," infectious disease physician Dr. Edcel Maurice Salvaña told CNN Philippines' News Night.

The dengue immunization has been carried out by the Department of Health (DOH) since April 2016, but was stopped by former Health chief Paulyn Ubial later in the year to await the results of the pilot program.

More than 730,000 children from Central Luzon, the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon, and Metro Manila were administered Dengvaxia, the anti-dengue vaccine from pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.

Salvaña explained that only 13 percent or over 90,000 would be at risk from severe dengue.

"No one's died, according to the trials, according to the analysis at this point," Salvaña said.

Sanofi on November 29 said new clinical data analysis showed its dengue vaccine may pose risks for people not previously infected by the virus.

READ: Drug firm warns of 'severe disease' from dengue vaccine for people with no prior infection

Government has since halted the program due to the risk.

READ: Gov't halts dengue vaccination program due to health risk

Salvaña then explained that there is public confusion about the nature of Dengvaxia.

"We give vaccines to people who have never had the disease, so that they don't get the disease. Dengue's different. The dengue vaccine, you want to give it to people who've had at least one episode of dengue," he said.

According to Salvaña, dengue is unique because of its four sero-types—which means a person may get up to four different kinds of dengue in a lifetime, increasing in intensity.

"The second, third and fourth episodes are relatively severe, so what people want to do, is when they give a vaccine here, is to reduce the severity of those subsequent infections," he said.

Sanofi earlier categorized the meaning of "severe dengue" in four levels from mild to severe: easy bruising, bleeding from nose and gums, low blood pressure, and profound shock.

In his Facebook post, Salvaña said the vaccine could have good effects if used correctly. He added that the DOH should not have immediately used Dengvaxia for mass vaccination.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the ₱3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccination program carried out by the government.

READ: DOJ orders probe of dengue vaccine program

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

The number of dengue cases in the country spiked from around 120,000 in 2014 to over 200,000 in 2015.

In 2017, the DOH reported 97,287 cases of dengue nationwide from January to September. Of these, 526 deaths were reported.

CNN Philippines' Digital Producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.