Health group warns gov't vs 'knee-jerk' move to lift Dengvaxia ban
MANILA, Philippines – An organization of health professionals cautioned the government against a “knee-jerk, reductionist, and vested interest-laden” move to lift the ban on the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine amid an ongoing national dengue epidemic.
Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), in a statement released on Friday, August 9, said that the government must instead take a more “rational, holistic, and participatory” approach in addressing the epidemic, which has seen 622 deaths since January.
HAHR gave the warning as groups are urging the Department of Health (DOH) to lift its permanent ban on the vaccine. President Rodrigo Duterte even said on Thursday, August 8, that he was open to the use of Dengvaxia again as cases of the mosquito-borne disease continued to soar, with 140,062 cases recorded as of July.
The DOH maintains that the vaccine has been proven not to be fit for an “outbreak response” and that it is not a mass immunization product.
HAHR reminded the public that Sanofi Pasteur, Dengvaxia’s manufacturer, pushed for Dengvaxia’s approval and market release despite “obvious lack of scientific data.” (READ: Dengvaxia safety trial unfinished when vaccination program launched – Duque)
The group added that other experts had warned against the premature use of the Dengvaxia vaccine in mass immunization efforts. One such expert was Scott Halstead, a retired dengue expert formerly with the US military.
As reported by NPR and ScienceMag.org, Halstead had said that Dengvaxia should not be administered to children never infected with dengue. He said that for such children, Dengvaxia even seemed to increase the risk of plasma leakage syndrome, a fatal condition in which blood vessels leak the yellow fluid of the blood.
In November 2017, Sanofi itself said that the vaccine could pose risks to people who have not been previously infected by the virus.
But by then, the DOH under then-secretary Janette Garin, had already implemented the dengue immunization program with the Dengvaxia vaccine at its center. The program had already administered the vaccine to over 830,000 students in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon by the time Sanofi made its announcement. (TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
The health department under health secretary Francisco Duque III immediately suspended the program and later banned the vaccine – a ban that Sanofi is still appealing.
In the face of the dengue epidemic, HAHR is calling for a “rational, holistic, and participatory” response. The group said this could be done by looking into the role of climate change in the upsurge of dengue and other vector-borne diseases, among other things.
“Resources spent on community-based participatory approaches in vector control might perhaps be more cost-effective and much less potentially dangerous than expensive vaccination programs,” the group added.
The health department recently launched the “Sabayang 4-o’clock Habit para Deng-Get Out,” which will focus on the destruction of mosquito breeding sites. It also urged the public to observe the 4S strategy as a preventive measure:
- Search and destroy mosquito breeding places
- Self-protective measures like wearing long sleeves and use of insect repellent
- Seek early consultation on the first signs and symptoms of the disease
- Say yes to fogging if there is an impending outbreak
HAHR also said that the government must conduct expanded research on alternative medicine approaches to combatting the mosquito-borne disease. – Rappler.com