Health Chief: Vaccine program should have waited for Dengvaxia clinical trial result

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 26) — Health Secretary Francisco Duque said officials could have waited for the results of clinical trials on dengue vaccine Dengvaxia to know its risks before launching the nationwide immunization program.

"If they had waited for 2017, they would've known they cannot give this Dengvaxia to children who never had dengue in the past," Duque said in a media briefing Thursday.

Duque said the clinical trial by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) was scheduled to end last year. However, the Department of Health under the Aquino administration began to vaccinate children in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON in April 2016.

"They could've waited. Prudence would've dictated to wait until the Phase 3 clinical trial should've been concluded," he said.

Vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur said in a November 2017 statement  that those who receive Dengvaxia without prior dengue infections face the risk of a severe disease.

More than 837,000 school children received the vaccine before Duque stopped the immunization program last December 1.

From March 2016 to January 24 this year, over 26 children who had Dengvaxia have died. Autopsy reports from both the Health Department and the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), however, maintain there are no conclusive findings to link the vaccine with the deaths.

On Thursday, PAO personnel conducted their 11th autopsy on a deceased child, who received Dengvaxia. PAO Forensics Laboratory consultant Dr. Erwin Erfe said that while there is a pattern, the findings are not conclusive.

However, Erfe advised parents of children who were given Dengvaxia should remain vigilant within six months of their vaccination.

"When children who receive Dengvaxia experience headache fever and abdominal pain or vomiting i-hospitalize na nila, have them checked and observed," he said.

The Office of the Ombudsman asked the RITM to submit all documents related to the trials.

Meanwhile, Duque said Executive Order 674, which establishes the RITM, must be reviewed to include possible conflicts of interest in its research activities in partnership with pharmaceutical companies.

"We probably should stop private manufacturing companies for vaccines and medicines to have anything to do with research activities,"  he said.

In a January 19 statement, RITM maintained the accuracy of its research, and the safety of its research participants.

"The RITM researchers firmly stand that the clinical trial on the dengue vaccine was responsibly conducted, uncorrupted by any conflict of interests, has provided accurate and unbiased results, and most importantly, has upheld the safety of its research participants more than its scientific goals," the statement read.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Xianne Arcangel and Triciah Terada contributed to this report.