In 2016, the Philippines became the first Asian country to license Sanofi Pasteur’s dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, even before it was prequalified by the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly a million students, mostly from Metro Manila, took part in a school-based vaccination campaign conducted by the Department of Health (DOH) in collaboration with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Despite protests from health activists and warning from medical professionals and specialists, the government went ahead with administering the dengue vaccine. Former DOH chief Janette Garin repeatedly assured that the vaccine with a P3.5 billion allocation, was safe and needed by the school children.
On Wednesday, Sanofi Pasteur released its new analysis of long-term clinical trial data on dengue vaccine Dengvaxia which shows that the drug may be harmful when administered to individuals not previously infected with dengue.
“Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefits against dengue fever in those who had prior infection. For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however…more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” the statement read.
The DOH’s P3-billion mass immunization was launched even before the vaccine was prequalified by the WHO. Prequalification is a standard procedure by WHO to ensure that vaccines purchased by the UN and government procurement agencies are safe and effective.
Dengvaxia is a tetravalent vaccine taken in three shots at six-month intervals and is only recommended for individuals aged 9 to 45.
During the school-based vaccination campaign conducted by DOH last March 31, 2016, John Paul Rafael, an 11 year old boy died days after he was administered the dengue vaccine. He died on April 11. Aside from his death, 362 cases of Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) or side effects to the vaccine which includes fever, headache, dizziness, vomiting and rashes were recorded.
Rafael’s death was classified as “coincidental with the vaccination” although relatives of the boy said, “it was not likely that the boy would die right after receiving the vaccine” from government health workers.
Health officials have disowned any accountability to his death and justified that the costly immunization program, few months before the national elections, was needed to protect children. Now, children have to live for the rest of their lives with the possibility of being infected with dengue strain.
More than 700,000 children were vaccinated in the National Capital Region (NCR), Region 4-A (Calabarzon) and in Central Luzon. No tests were conducted on their previous exposure to dengue virus. Haphazardly, health officials dispensed and administered the drugs without any concern on its implication to health. It was a bulk purchase after all and involves a huge amount of money. It was also nearing election time.
There is nothing left for the public but to demand for an investigation, though it remains to be seen on whether previous administration officials would have the temerity to come forward and own up on their action.
There is nothing more for the family of the child who died days after the immunization. They have perhaps moved on with a heavy heart, knowing that the previous government officials have done nothing but only justified their move. John Paul is unknown after all, just part of the statistics that shows the utter disregard on the life of a child.
No one was held responsible. No one will dare look back nor light a candle for the child and many others who were tested. It’s a crying shame for children to be experimented and their lives endangered.