DOH: More than 800,000 children vaccinated with Dengvaxia

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — More than 800,000 children were administered with the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the Health Department said Wednesday.

Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo said they are still awaiting reports from other regional health offices.

"It's still counting. We have more than 800,000. Reporting pa 'yung iba eh. Iyong iba hindi pa nakaka-pagsubmit ng report," Bayugo said.

The 800,000-plus figure is an increase from the 733,000 individuals, mostly children from Metro Manila, Region 3, and Region 4 whom the health department said were immunized with Dengvaxia, under a program that cost the government P3.5 billion (US$ 70 million) for the vaccines alone.

Earlier, the Health Department in Region 7 or Central Visayas said there are about 159,766 children that were given Dengvaxia in Cebu. It is unclear if the 159,766 children in Cebu are part of the 800,000 figure cited by Bayugo.

Department of Health Region 7 Director Jaime Bernadas said they stepped up monitoring of the children who were given the vaccine in the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and other pilot test areas. Cebu was one of the areas in which the vaccine was administered via a barangay program and not by the schools.

There is no cause for alarm as they have not yet received any reports of vaccinated children who are manifesting the signs of "severe dengue," he added.

The controversy over children vaccinated with Dengavaxia arose when the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur on November 29 announced that its dengue vaccine is more risky for individuals not previously infected by the virus. Sanofi Pasteur said their latest data showed that those who received the vaccine without prior dengue infections may contract severe dengue.

READ: Drug firm warns of 'severe disease' from dengue vaccine for people with no prior infection

This alarmed health officials, since the Philippines had vaccinated children in schools and towns under a public vaccination program. Sanofi Pasteur says that the Philippines and Brazil were the two countries that instituted public vaccination programs with Dengvaxia.

Possible deaths from dengue — but not the vaccine

Bayugo also said it is looking into nine possible deaths from dengue. But he said these deaths were not vaccine-related.

"We have not encountered any deaths that we can attribute directly to the vaccine," he said.

The reported number of children who fell ill after vaccination also increased, from 30 cases in 2016 to 40 this year, Bayugo said.

"Nadadagdagan 'yan as we receive more reports of adverse events following immunization," he said.

Bayugo said that any event which happens to a child is counted as an adverse event.

"One example, if a child is vaccinated this morning, umuwi sa bahay, nakagat ng aso. That incident is reported as an adverse event," he said.

Bayugo cited a draft report of the House Committee on Health in 2016 that showed 997 cases of adverse events followed immunization of the vaccine in 2016, he said. Thirty were considered serious cases, and were in need of hospitalization.

The report claimed the vaccines were administered to Grade 4 students nine and up from Central Luzon, the region of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon, and Metro Manila via a Health Department program since 2016.

Bayugo, however, did not make any comment on the findings of the House panel's draft report.

The Justice Department has ordered a probe into the dengue vaccination program, and the Senate has also ordered an inquiry.

READ: DOJ orders probe of dengue vaccine program

WHO: We never recommended public vaccination

Bayugo said that in 2016, there was a recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) to administer the vaccine in areas where dengue was rife.

"WHO said that it can be implemented in areas that are hyperendemic for the disease that's why it was not done on a nationwide basis," he claimed. "hyperendemic" refers to a high incidence of an illness occurring.

But in a statement, WHO clarified it never sent recommendations to introduce the dengue vaccine into the national immunization program. The organization added that the Department of Health administered the vaccines prior to their recommendation.

"First, use of the vaccine should only be considered in areas where a high proportion of the community had already been exposed to the virus; second, the vaccine should only be provided to people 9 years of age and above; and third, people being vaccinated should receive 3 doses," the WHO statement read.

READ: WHO denies recommending Dengvaxia for nat'l immunization programs

Bayugo also claimed when the House and Senate conducted separate investigations last year, the vaccines had already been purchased.

Cebu-based reporter Dale Israel contributed to this report.