DOH starts dengue vaccination program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Department of Health (DOH) launched its school-based dengue immunization program on Monday (April 4).

Around 250 Grade 4 students of Parang Elementary School in Marikina City received free immunization from the life-threatening disease.

The DOH will be vaccinating Grade 4 students from regions with the highest number of dengue cases, namely the National Capital Region, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon.

Students will be given three doses of the vaccine — another in September and the last one in March next year.

Related: DOH to vaccinate public school students against dengue

Too hasty

It took scientists 20 years to develop Dengvaxia, the world's first anti-dengue vaccine, and the Philippines is the first country where it is commercially available.

However, some doctors are questioning the supposed haste of the DOH in spending P3.5 billion on an immunization program that has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Why rush this when even the World Health Organization's report from the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on the vaccine is yet to be released?" said Dr. Tony Leachon, president of the Philippine College of Physicians Foundation.

Also read: World’s first dengue vaccine now available in PH

"As health advocates, we appeal to the DOH to wait until the study is completed and put in place safeguards to protect children from possible adverse effects on their health."

Health authorities previously said the vaccine will have side effects, including fever, headache, muscle pain, weakness, redness and swelling.

Recommended use of the vaccine will likely be issued by the WHO in April 2016, after experts review it based on vaccine safety, vaccine efficacy, disease burden, programmatic suitability, as well as dose scheduling and cost-effectiveness.

Dengue a priority

Meanwhile, DOH secretary Janette Garin shot down critics by reasoning that dengue fever is a public health priority.

"Masakit mang aminin, may nagkakasakit, may namamatay, at hindi pwedeng pumikit ang gobyerno. Hindi pwedeng talikuran ang panahon na kayo ay nangangailangan sa amin," said Garin.

Related: DOH intensifies anti-dengue campaign

[Translation: "It painful to admit there are people who get sick and die. The government can't close its eyes. We can't turn our backs on you when you need us."]

She said the vaccine was found to prevent nine out of 10 severe dengue cases.

Even Sanofi Pasteur, the pharmaceutical company that developed the anti-dengue vaccine, said it does not guarantee 100 percent protection against the disease.

"Vaccine is not enough to tackle dengue in the world," said Guillaume Leroy, vice president of Sanofi Pasteur. "We will have to continue also efforts also in place in vector control to try to reduce circulation of the virus."

Related: New dengue vaccine protects against virus in small first-pass study

But some parents are relieved to know that their children are protected against the disease.

"Masaya po ako kasi libre at protektado sa dengue [ang anak ko]," said Carolina Baguio, a mother of a student who received free dengue immunization.

[Translation: "I'm happy because the vaccine is free and I know that my child is protected from dengue."]

According to a study by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, the vaccine is expected to reduce dengue cases in the country by over 24 percent in a span of five years.

The number of dengue cases in the country spiked from around 120,000 in 2014 to over 200,000 in 2015.

Related: Dengue cases in Metro Manila, Cavite on the rise