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Philippines to investigate “shameless public health scam”

Published on 04/12/17 at 10:17am

The Philippines has announced that it will investigate how more than 730,000 children received a dengue vaccine, despite safety concerns over the therapy.

Last week, Sanofi stated that it would be advising medical professionals and providing a label change to its vaccine, Dengvaxia, based on six-year data. The follow-up study showed that those who were dengue-naïve were placed at a greater risk of suffering a life-threatening reaction should they contract dengue after the vaccine.

This has led to a public health scramble in countries where the vaccine has been used extensively, with the Philippines being the foremost example. Sanofi has stressed that there have been, so far, no deaths linked to the use of the vaccine.

However, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, a non-profit group based in the Philippines, has suggested that three children had already died after vaccination, in Central Luzon.

The Philippines’ Department of Health has already halted further use of the vaccine and a statement on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte said: “We will leave no stone unturned in making those responsible for this shameless public health scam which puts hundreds of thousands of young lives at risk accountable”.

It has been made clear that none of the health officials that administered the vaccination were aware of the potential risk of the vaccine. However, there were concerns expressed by other countries and by researchers about the potential side-effect of the drug before immunisation programs began.

The vaccine was once put forward by Sanofi as a potential blockbuster and yet the vaccine failed to reap much in the way of sales – only €55 million in its first year of sales, reflecting the unease over the vaccines action.

For the Philippines, it has proved initially costly, with the bill for the vast number of vaccines given to children across the islands totalling $70 million, but this cost could spiral.

Dengue is a virus that is growing in prevalence across the world, and is unusual in that after the initial first time contracting the virus, the second time is more severe.

It is assumed that Dengvaxia mimics the action of a child contracting the first virus, meaning that the second infection produces a much stronger reaction. To make matters worse, this is a side-effect on treatment that is permanent – meaning that a second infection would be just as dangerous for the rest of the individual’s life.

The situation has all the makings of a PR disaster for Sanofi, that has already had to take a write-down of more than €100 million on the vaccine this year.

Ben Hargreaves

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