Asia Minute: Dengue Vaccine Sparks Controversy in the Philippines

Feb 6, 2018

Credit JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a little more than two years since Hawai‘i Island was hit with an outbreak of dengue fever. While local cases involving the virus have been quiet since then, dengue is at the center of a controversy in the Philippines. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

A vaccination against dengue fever is the focus of a lawsuit just filed by the government of the Philippines.

The Public Attorney’s Office is suing the French drug maker Sanofi over the death of a 10-year old girl it says died as a result of receiving the company’s vaccine Dengvaxia. More than 800,000 children around the Philippines have received the vaccine, but critics say it was a rushed process without enough clinical trials.

Sanofi Building in Massy, Essonne, France
Credit Lionel Allorge / Wikimedia Commons

Sanofi denies that. But in November, the company sent an advisory saying the vaccine might actually increase the risk of dengue in some patients who have not previously been infected by the virus.

The Philippines government suspended its dengue vaccination program, and asked a panel of experts to determine whether the vaccine played a role in more than a dozen deaths. On Friday, the panel said it may be connected to three deaths.

The drug maker disputes that and says no deaths have ever been linked with Dengvaxia.

It’s the only vaccine that’s been developed for dengue fever—which according to the Philippines government strikes up to 200,000 people a year in the country.

This entire case is having an unexpected side effect.

A top Philippines health official says there has been a large drop in immunization rates for preventable diseases—from polio and tetanus to chicken pox.