The government of the Philippines stood firm on its ban on the world’s first dengue vaccine on Tuesday while declaring a nationwide mosquito-borne disease epidemic that it said it murdered hundreds this year.
From January 1 to July 20, the incidence of dengue rose by 98 percent from a year ago to 146,062 instances, causing 662 fatalities, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told a news conference announcing a “domestic dengue epidemic.”
In February, Manila prohibited the sale, import and distribution of the Dengvaxia vaccine following the fatalities in a public immunization campaign of several dozen kids who were among over 700,000 individuals shot in 2016 and 2017.
Duque said the government is considering an appeal on Thursday to allow French pharmaceutical company Sanofi to restore the vaccine to the Philippine market, but ruled out using the drug to fight the continuing epidemic that hit kids hard.
The vaccine, now authorized by the World Health Organization in 20 nations, is approved for use by those aged 9 years and older.
Duque said Manila was also informed by the United Nations organization that the vaccine was “not recommended” as a reaction to an epidemic, and it was “not cost-effective” with one dose costing a thousand pesos (about $20).
Dengue, or hemorrhagic fever, is the most common mosquito-borne virus in the world and infects an estimated 390 million people every year in over 120 countries— killing over 25,000 of them, according to the WHO.
In 2016, the Philippines became the first nation in a mass immunization program to use Dengvaxia.
But dispute arose after Sanofi revealed a year later that symptoms for individuals not earlier infected with the dengue virus could worsen. The disclosure triggered a national panic, with some parents claiming their kids were murdered by the vaccine.
The controversy also triggered a vaccine scare that the government said was a factor behind measles outbreaks that the UN Children’s Fund said have killed more than 200 people this year.
Duque on Tuesday called on other government agencies, schools, offices and communities get out of offices, homes and schools every afternoon to take part in efforts to “search and destroy mosquito breeding sites”.