Dengvaxia: Where Did it Go Wrong?

Each year dengue cases continue to rise in different parts of the world, most especially here in the Philippines. Given that there are four viruses, Serotypes 1-4, which causes the disease, the public has been clamoring for an effective drug which can prevent the transmission of the disease.

One vaccine that has been licensed by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations was Dengvaxia. Dengvaxia is the first licensed vaccine which was developed by the company Sanofi Pasteur.
Dengvaxia scandal

Dengvaxia underwent two Phase 3 clinical trials in 2014. These trials were done to equate the safety, protection and efficacy of this vaccine. With over 35,000 participants that were administered the Dengvaxia, none of these participants ended up with negative implications. However, according to WHO “Efficacy varied by serotype…” meaning, the effectiveness of the vaccine was different for participants of each serotype. Efficacy was higher for those with Serotype 3 and 4.

But if this is the case, then why is it that here in the Philippines many people claim that Dengvaxia is ineffective, dangerous, and could possibly even attract dengue?

Dengvaxia was formally disseminated to the public here in the Philippine on April 2016. The government conducted school-based vaccination program of Dengvaxia. Over three million doses of Dengvaxia was acquired by the Philippine government in hopes to vaccinate over one million children. But at the same time, there were critics who already expressed that the safety of the government’s vaccine program is not assured, given that further studies of the vaccine were still being done.

And since then there have been complaints and cases where many try to claim that Dengvaxia is a failure; it is ineffective and dangerous.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Dengvaxia does work. It has been proven showing that chances of experiencing severe dengue have been lessened thanks to the vaccine. The 35,000 participants were proof that Dengvaxia has lessened the chances of a child acquiring dengue. Dengvaxia does not cause dengue nor is it ineffective. The vaccine is also used and administered in different countries in the world.

But then how do we explain some cases here in the Philippines wherein some have experienced negative results?

It is because in 2015, there was already a study released by Sanofi Pasteur which explained that the vaccine is effective, but it does increase the risk of severe dengue for those who will receive Dengvaxia without any prior infection of the disease, meaning they are seronegative. Sanofi Pasteur was already expressing that labels and descriptions for the vaccine must be changed. They suggested that healthcare personnel would first assess if a person had prior dengue infection before taking the vaccine.

But sadly, this was not what happened in the Philippines. The Department of Health (DOH) had hurried the process of approving and disseminating the vaccine out to the public without taking into considerations other implications and as well as the safety measures that must be applied when administering the vaccines.