In a follow-up on the dengue vaccine situation in the Philippines, the Philippines Department of Health (DOH) announced the creation of a Task Force for the management of concerns related to the school-based immunization initiative using the tetravalent dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.

This is part of the agency’s commitment to closely monitor and attend to the health of those immunized with the vaccine, even after these immunization activities were put on hold by the DOH Secretary last week.

The Task Force is composed of top management officials of the DOH Central Office, and of the affected regions, along with its attached agencies namely, the Food and Drug Administration, PhilHealth, and the National Children’s Hospital.

“This Task Force will conduct a thorough review of the dengue vaccination initiative which started in March 2016 and the new evidence on safety provided by Sanofi. This shall guide the Department of Health in responding to the safety concerns relevant to the use of this vaccine and how to proceed with the dengue program to ensure safeguards and prevent similar incidents in the future,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III declared.

The DOH reiterated its commitment to heighten surveillance and monitoring activities on all 830,000 students vaccinated with Dengvaxia. The DOH will be hiring thirty (30) additional surveillance officers to be deployed immediately to its hospitals in the four (4) regions where these anti-dengue vaccination activities were conducted.

“We will be deploying them immediately for active surveillance and data collection in these hospitals. Surveillance will be done for five (5) years. This is part of our commitment to the parents and children who were immunized with the anti-dengue vaccines,” Secretary Duque said.

The health department is currently updating the master list of children given Dengvaxia in coordination with DOH field offices and the Department of Education.

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The Task Force on Dengvaxia will have a legal team to look into the accountability of Sanofi Pasteur, the company which marketed Dengvaxia with an initial claim that the vaccine was safe and effective for all individuals aged 9 to 45 years old. The French pharmaceutical giant later on acknowledged that the vaccine is not recommended for people who have had no prior dengue infection lest the vaccination increases the risk of severe dengue. As this disclosure was made only after the health department had already vaccinated thousands of schoolchildren, the news created a scare among parents and the Filipino public.

“We will demand the refund of the PhP 3.5 billion paid for the Dengvaxia, and that Sanofi set up an indemnification fund to cover the hospitalization and medical treatment for all children who might have severe dengue,” Secretary Duque added.

Secretary Duque also announced that PhilHealth is ready to cover the expenses of any child who may be hospitalized for severe dengue. PhilHealth’s Dengue case rate can cover up to P16,000 for severe dengue which includes hospital and physician fees.

“We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring our children for any adverse event following immunization, and will strengthen the readiness of our public hospitals in attending to any severe dengue cases that may occur,” the health chief concluded.