An investigation has been announced into the deaths of 14 children who took an anti-dengue vaccine.
The government stopped the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia last month after Sanofi, the French manufacturer, warned it could worsen symptoms for people who had not previously suffered the mosquito-borne virus.
Sanofi maintains the anti-dengue vaccine does not kill people. It has not made any further comment following the health department’s announcement today (Friday, January 5).
The government has assigned a panel of experts from the Philippine General Hospital to review the cases. They are expected to report back in one or two weeks, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
Speaking to reporters, Assistant Health Secretary Enrique Domingo said: “We asked them the question, number one: what they think is the cause of death, and then second, do they think it is related to the vaccination.”
More than 800,000 children received the anti-dengue vaccine last year in the world’s first dengue immunisation programme.
Dengue was blamed for only four of the 14 deaths being probed, Duque said, with heart ailments, leukaemia, lupus and meningococcemia recorded to be the causes of the others.
The children, aged from nine to 11 years old, came from Central Luzon, Southern Luzon and Metro Manila.
“We need to watch out for 837,000 students who have been vaccinated and to us this is paramount,” he added.
He also said the government expected a refund from Sanofi for the unused vaccines, which are worth 1.5 billion pesos.
In November last year, Sanofi released findings of a study that showed Dengvaxia could lead to severe infections for vaccinated people who caught dengue for the first time.
However, the company urged the Philippines not to suspend the vaccine’s use, describing it as a crucial tool in fighting the disease.
Nonetheless, the disclosure triggered a public outcry, with accusations that the children of the Philippines had effectively been used as guinea pigs.
Dengue, also known as ‘break bone fever’, is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
More than a thousand Filipinos died of dengue last year, according to the health department.