By Ellson Quismorio
Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel says he and his fellow solons are counting on the Department of Health (DOH) to come up with a report on the impact of the controversial vaccine Dengvaxia, especially with the spike in dengue fever cases.
Of special interest are cases involving children who contracted the mosquito-borne virus for the first time despite receiving Dengvaxia shots, Pimentel said.
“Congress gave the DOH ample funds to monitor the health condition of children who received Dengvaxia shots. Surely, the Department should be able to provide us a detailed report in a future hearing,” he said.
“In fact, all government-run hospitals are supposed to check if a child being brought in for suspected dengue infection previously received Dengvaxia shots,” noted Pimentel.
He said Congress wants to ascertain the estimated number of Filipino children who had no prior dengue infection, but who received Dengvaxia shots anyway under a school-based public immunization program launched by the past administration in April 2016.
“More importantly, we want to find out how many of these children – who never had dengue but still received Dengvaxia shots – subsequently suffered severe dengue disease when they actually came down with the virus for the first time post-vaccination,” Pimentel said.
The DOH on July 15 declared a national dengue alert following the rapidly increasing number of cases observed in 13 of the country’s 17 regions.
A total of 106,630 dengue cases were reported countrywide from January to June this year, up 85 percent from the 57,564 listed in the same semester in 2018. At least 456 deaths were tallied in the first semester, up 43 percent from the 317 logged in the same period in 2018, the DOH said.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May approved Dengvaxia for use in a few dengue-prone areas in America, but categorically disapproved it for use on those with no prior dengue virus infection.
It cited evidence that Dengvaxia can increase the risk of severe infection in people who never had dengue.
“Dengvaxia is not approved for use in individuals not previously infected by any dengue virus serotype or for whom this information is unknown. This is because in people who have not been infected with dengue virus, Dengvaxia appears to act like a first dengue infection – without actually infecting the person with wild-type dengue virus – such that a subsequent infection can result in severe dengue disease,” the US drug regulator said when it approved the vaccine with major restrictions.
The Philippines’ own Food and Drug Administration permanently revoked the certificate of product registration of Dengvaxia in February.
Several Quezon City regional trial courts recently consolidated the various claims for restitution filed by parents of children who died allegedly of severe dengue disease complications after receiving Dengvaxia shots.
The plaintiffs are seeking reparation from respondents Sanofi Pasteur, the French maker Dengvaxia, and distributor Zuellig Pharma Holdings Pte. Ltd.
Pimentel is a former chairman of the House Good Government and Public Accountability, which in 2018 launched a joint inquiry with the Health panel into the vaccination program using Dengvaxia.
Some 730,000 children received Dengvaxia shots – regardless whether they were previously infected by dengue or not – under the inoculation program launched in April 2016.
The program was abandoned in December 2017, when adverse findings against the world’s first anti-dengue vaccine first became public. By then, some 730,000 school children were already vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
The DOH is spending another P213 million this year to deploy an additional 425 nurses to keep an eye on the Dengvaxia vaccinees.
The nurses are expected to watch closely hospital admissions of vaccinees. They are also supposed to visit public schools to check on the health condition of vaccinees.
The P213 million is on top of the P1.16 billion that Congress earmarked in 2018 “to provide the necessary health and medical assistance to Dengvaxia vaccinees.”