By Getsy Tiglao
In simple terms, this is precisely what pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur was telling the public – don’t use Dengvaxia if you have not previously been infected with dengue. Otherwise, a severe case of the dengue fever may be in your future.
This is what parents with children should keep in mind as they digest the often conflicting information that have come out amid the scandal involving the apparently defective dengue vaccine. Yes, don’t panic but also be vigilant and don’t allow the large corporate interests to pull the wool over your eyes.
But first, it has to be said: it is deplorable that Dengvaxia was administered on 733,000 public school children, mostly nine-year-olds, despite the warnings of medical experts on its possible adverse effects. The program was begun by the Aquino administration in April, 2016, and continued unwittingly by the next government, until Sanofi’s bombshell admission recently.
Sanofi didn’t make the revelation about the flaw in its vaccine out of its love for Filipino schoolchildren. It was legally obligated to do so since Sanofi stock is listed in the European stock exchange, the Euronext, as well as in the New York Stock Exchange.
Here is what Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical firm, said in its official statement: “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 asked regulatory agencies in countries where its vaccine is approved to update its label or prescribing information. “Vaccination should only be recommended when the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks… For individuals who have not been previously infected by dengue virus, vaccination should not be recommended.”
It’s very clear, coming from Sanofi itself, what the new prescription is – Dengvaxia is best for those with, or have been infected with dengue. If you haven’t had dengue, don’t allow yourself or your children to get injections of this vaccine. It is NOT recommended even by the manufacturer itself.
Health officials should start monitoring the health of the public school children who received the vaccination. It doesn’t matter if the risk is “only” 10 percent, as some defenders of Sanofi have mentioned. For parents of otherwise healthy children even 10 percent is a risk too much.
Now comes the question of accountability, for someone has to answer for this wrongdoing which borders on the criminal.
The Department of Justice has already ordered an investigation and a case build-up into the danger to public health posed by the purchase and use of the dengue vaccine. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said he has personally received a number of complaints from parents whose children were injected with Dengvaxia.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Ombudsman should also look into allegations of corruption, given the persistent reports the Dengvaxia was overpriced, compared with listed prices in other countries that had approved the vaccine. Almost always, overpricing is a sign that someone in government had received a “commission” from the seller.
Some of the tough questions that need to be answered: Why did the Aquino administration rush the implementation of the anti-dengue program and why did it ignore the warnings of medical experts? How was the purchase of the P3.5 billion worth of vaccines funded when the program was not included in the general appropriations? Who in government benefitted from the large-scale purchase?
Just months after the mass immunization program for dengue was launched, both the Senate and the House were already investigating the apparent haste in which the previous administration had acquired the expensive vaccine. Their inquiry was prompted in part by the death of two schoolchildren who received the first dose of Dengvaxia.
The Senate Health and Blue Ribbon Committees are now planning a new probe into the anti-dengue program in light of the admission by Sanofi – based on its new analysis of six-year clinical data – that those who didn’t have the virus but got inoculated anyway ran the risk of having a more “severe disease.”
Senator Richard Gordon was among those who early on had questioned why the purchase was rushed by the previous government, in what he branded in a privilege speech as a “midnight deal.” He also questioned why the Philippines is the first one to implement a mass vaccination program, for a new vaccine at that. “Why should we be the guinea pig? We should make sure (first) of its safety,” he said.
In September last year, way before Sanofi made its admission, scientists from Imperial College London, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the University of Florida, already released a study warning against the dengue vaccine when used in low-infection-rate areas, especially on individuals who have not been exposed to dengue before.
The scientists explained that dengue acts differently compared with other infectious diseases. Normally, a person who is infected with a virus builds up a defense system against it. But with dengue a second infection is usually more serious than the first, with the person’s antibodies helping the virus infect the cells, instead of fighting it.
Said Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the authors of the study: “If someone has never been exposed to dengue, the vaccine seems to act like a silent infection. The initial exposure to the virus from the vaccine primes the immune system, so when they are infected again, the symptoms are likely to be severe.”