MANILA – The dengue vaccine was given to Filipino children younger than nine years old when the Philippines took part in clinical trials 10 years ago.
This is according to former Health Secretary Paulyn Rossell-Ubial, one of the resource persons during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the government’s dengue vaccination program on Monday.
The hearing was called after manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur divulged findings that people who were not previously infected by the virus but were vaccinated could be at risk of more severe dengue strains once they do get an infection.
Asked by Senate Committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon if it was true that Dengvaxia was given to one and two year olds, Ubial said that the vaccine was meant for those nine years old and above. During the clinical trials 10 years ago, the drug may have been given to younger children, but not today.
Dengvaxia was approved for the use for those aged nine to 45 years old, Sanofi had said prior to the disclosure.
The age range may have something to do with what Sanofi Pasteur regional director Dr. Joselito Sta. Ana said in a press release last week: that nine out of 10 Filipinos aged 9-14 have already been infected with dengue.
They were not necessarily hospitalized for dengue, given that three-fourths of dengue cases are asymptomatic, he added.
RECORD ON EVERY CHILD
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said that the government has records on every child who has been vaccinated with Dengvaxia. This will allow the Department of Health to monitor them.
Gordon stressed the importance of a nationwide information drive to assuage the fears of parents whose children had been vaccinated with Dengvaxia. Teachers and parents should be meeting about the issue, and telling the children to immediately inform their elders if they are feeling sick. Even barangay officials should be educated on the matter, and the information drive must be consistent.
He also expressed the willingness of the Philippine Red Cross to help out. Authorities must go room to room, if needed, to explain the circumstances to those affected.
Duque, for his part, outlined the steps his office has undertaken since Sanofi Pasteur’s report flagging the “severe disease” risk for the so-called zero-negatives, or those who had no previous infections when they got Dengvaxia:
1. The DOH is setting up a hotline for Metro Manila, Region 3, and Region 4-A, where the school-based vaccination program was implemented. For the National Capital Region, the numbers to call are 711-1001 and 711-1002.
2. The DOH is putting together a masterlist of vaccinees with the help of the Department of Education and local governments.
3. The DOH has been instructed to conduct heightened surveillance of those who have been vaccinated.
4. PhilHealth has been instructed to ensure funding requirements for every child who manifest serious or “not-so-serious” symptoms are available, so that when they go to the hospital, PhilHealth is ready to cover their hospitalization: P10,000 for ordinary dengue, and P16,000 for severe dengue.
There is point-of-care enrolment, meaning if a person goes to the hospital, he or she will be asked if he or she has PhilHealth. If not, he or she will be immediately enrolled in the system.
Duque said it was better to go to public rather than private hospitals because they will not need to pay anything. If the private hospital is closer, PhilHealth will still cover part of the expenses.
5. Duque is getting information across through newspaper, television, and radio interviews, from as early as 5:00 a.m. to late night, for the past nine days.
He explained that the vaccination program was done to complement the traditional “4S campaign” of the DOH, where S stands for: search and destroy breeding grounds of mosquitoes; seek early consultation with doctors if children have high fever, rashes, body malaise, nausea, or vomiting; self-protection measures like wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and using mosquito repellant; and say “yes” to fogging when there is an impending outbreak or a hotspot.