Doctor rips 'downplaying' of Dengvaxia risks

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2017 11:01 AM | Updated as of Dec 12 2017 10:11 PM

A health worker shows unused packs of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia before returning it inside a freezer for storage at the Manila Health Department in Sta Cruz, Metro Manila, Philippines December 5, 2017. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

MANILA - A doctor on Tuesday criticized French drug maker Sanofi for allegedly downplaying the risks posed by its controversial dengue vaccine.

The Philippines this month halted the use of vaccine Dengvaxia after Sanofi said it might increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients not previously infected by the mosquito-borne virus.

The pharmaceutical giant later said their definition of "severe dengue" merely referred to symptoms including 2 days of fever, a lower platelet count and bruising.

But Sanofi, during their clinical studies, defined "severe dengue" as cases where patients were hospitalized, said Dr. Antonio Dans, an epidemiologist from the University of the Philippines.

"Noong sinimulan nila ang study, nagsang-ayon e, 'ito ang gagamitin nating definition ng severe: kapag naospital.' Tapos noong lumabas ang result, sasabihin na hindi naman talaga iyan grabe," he told DZMM.

"Parang iniiba nila ang definition based on what sounds nicer. Hindi naman tama iyun sa science."

(When they started the study, they agreed: 'severe dengue is when the subject is hospitalized. When the results came out, they said, it's not as grave as that. They are apparently changing the definition based on what sounds nicer. That is not right.)

Dans in March 2016 led a delegation of physicians who pressed the government to stop the vaccination of schoolchildren with Dengvaxia, citing research that the vaccine could act like a primary infection for those who had never had dengue.

If they were bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus after the vaccination, it could allegedly be akin to getting dengue a second time, which often leads to far more severe symptoms and potentially death if bad cases are not treated quickly.

Sanofi has said that only 1 out of 10 Filipinos have no prior history of dengue and are the only ones facing the risk of contracting severe dengue.

This projection however means that 10 percent of the 700,000 schoolchildren who received the virus may not have had dengue and are therefore exposed to greater health risks, Dans pointed out.

"Tina-try na namang palabasin na hindi naman ganoon kasama, hindi naman ganoon ka-severe. Kaunti lang naman sila, 10 percent lang naman sila. Ten percent ng 700,000, ilan ba iyun? 70,000 children. Hindi mo alam kung ilan doon ang anak mo," the doctor said.

(They are trying to make it appear that this is not so bad, it won't be that severe. There are only a few who are exposed to risks: 10 percent. But how many is ten percent of 700,000? That's 70,000 children. You don't know if your child is among them.)

The government, he said, should step up the monitoring of vaccine recipients and follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which is reviewing safety data on Dengvaxia.

The Senate and House of Representatives have also launched separate probes into the issue. With Reuters