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Health expert says autopsy won’t yield conclusion a child died due to Dengvaxia

Updated
By Hannah L. Torregoza
 
An autopsy on the remains of children vaccinated with Dengvaxia would not yield any conclusion that their cause of death was due to the anti-dengue vaccine.

FILE PHOTO: Concepcion Yusop, a national immunization program manager, shows dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in Sta. Cruz city, Metro Manila, Philippines, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo/MANILA BULLETIN

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo/MANILA BULLETIN)

 
Dr. Scott Halstead, an expert on dengue disease who has been studying vaccines since 1957, told the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday at the resumption of the investigation into the government’s P3.5-billion procurement of the anti-dengue vaccines.
 
“Please be aware that the diagnosis of Dengvaxia cannot be based on an autopsy,” Halstead said during the hearing, responding to a question posed by Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, who chairs the Senate committee on health and demography.
 
“There are a lot of autopsies being done now because unfortunately children die for one reason or another after vaccine. This is a very old phenomenon. I’ve been in the vaccine business forever, there’s always a problem like this,” he added. 
 
Ejercito raised the issue on the feasibility of accepting the findings of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) forensic team.
 
PAO, which has launched an independent investigation into the deaths allegedly linked to Dengvaxia, had earlier claimed of finding a supposed pattern that led to the deaths of at least five children who were administered with the vaccine.
 
But Halstead said there are two things to consider in investigating any child who dies after being given a Dengvaxia shot: “one is an unequivocal evidence that the infection was caused by a dengue virus. The second one is, we need to know whether the vaccine in that particular individual was given when the individual was seronegative or seropositive.”
 
Seronegative refers to an individual who haven’t had contracted the dengue virus prior to being vaccinated.
 
In order to find out whether an individual was given a Dengvaxia when they are seronegative or seropositive, he said Sanofi Pasteur, the French manufacturer of Dengvaxia, can actually provide the test they themselves developed.
 
“And to that we need to use the test that Sanofi has developed and that’s available in several laboratories,” Halstead told senators.
 
“And I’m hoping to introduce that to the Philippines where you are actually taking antibody versus the proteins that are inside the viruses—the so-called non-structural proteins…” said the US-based scientist, noting  that the test is not yet available in the country.
 
“That testcan actually tell whether an individual was given a Dengvaxia when they’re seronegative or seropositive. Now everybody is running around saying that the vaccine’s a failure. I’m sorry, that’s when the problem with WHO,”
 
“WHO never identified any of these breakthrough cases as serious adverse events. If you’ve been vaccinated and then you’re hospitalized, something is wrong with the vaccine. Let’s face it,” he said.
 
Sanofi came out with an advisory late last year that seronegative individuals who were administered with Dengvaxia are likely to have severe dengue if infected by the mosquito-borne virus. This forced the government to stop its national anti-dengue immunization program. But the Department of Health (DOH) claimed over 830,000 school children have already been vaccinated.
Halstead noted the Dengvaxia controversy had similarity on the measles vaccine when it was first marketed in the United States 40 to 50 years ago.
 
During that time, two years after the measles vaccines were given, two persons acquired severe measles that ended in death.
 
“So we’ve encountered this phenomenon before. But here is a much bigger group of people who are exposed,” Halstead pointed out.
 
“We don’t want to have available vaccine where people inadvertently receive antibodies that are going to be detrimental,” he added.
 
When Ejercito pressed if the present Dengvaxia vaccine is safe and effective, Halstead responded: 
“The only available (anti-dengue vaccine) in the market is Dengvaxia.
 
“It’s effective in protecting people who had prior Dengue, yes. It’s not effective in preventing disease in people who are seronegative at the time they’re vaccinated,” Halstead said.

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