Medics to probe child deaths

The Philippines said a team from the country’s biggest state-run hospital would investigate whether three child deaths were linked to an anti-dengue vaccine that has been suspended.

More than 830,000 children were given Sanofi’s Dengvaxia jab during the world’s first public dengue immunisation programme in 2016.

The Department of Health (DOH) said it was consolidating the documents for the three children before handing the evidence to a panel at the University of the Philippines’ general hospital. Two of the dead are 10-year-old girls, while the age and the gender of the third child are unknown.

Manila suspended Dengvaxia’s sale and distribution in early December after Sanofi announced that it could intensify symptoms for those who had not previously been infected with dengue.

The French firm and health ministry in Manila say Dengvaxia will not cause anyone immunised to die but the families of two girls who died from unnamed causes blame the vaccine, according to the Philippine media.

Both houses of congress have also opened investigations into the vaccination programme, asking why Dengvaxia was bought for 3.5 billion pesos (US$179 million).

Health minister Francisco Duque said the University of the Philippines’ general hospital would select a panel of medics and pathologists to examine the deaths of three vaccinated children.

“[The panel] will be providing an independent review and assessment on the probable cause of deaths of cases submitted by the DOH,” Duque said.

More than 176,000 dengue cases were reported in the archipelago in 2016, according to the World Health Organisation. Former health minister Janette Garin started the programme last year under the Benigno Aquino administration.

Duque has previously said Sanofi would be called on to refund 1.4 billion pesos (US$27.6 million) for the unused Dengvaxia supplies, establish an “indemnity fund” to cover the hospital costs of vaccinated children and sue the manufacturer.

The authorities monitored 133 children injected with Dengvaxia who were later treated for dengue symptoms, according to health undersecretary Herminigildo Valle. At least 36 of these cases were caused by dengue, but he said it was unclear how many were severe. Duque said the hotline set up for Dengvaxia enquiries since December 6 had received around 700 calls.

Public hospitals were “prepared to handle and manage severe dengue and other potential adverse events following immunisation”, he told the media.

“We have long instituted dengue fast lanes in our DOH hospitals. The DOH has also set up 24/7 hotlines on the dengue vaccine, apart from creating dengue assistance desks in the DOH central office and its regional offices,” the health deputy said.


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