Philippines launches world’s first mass dengue vaccination

The Philippines today launched the first public immunization program for dengue fever, seeking to administer to a million schoolchildren the world’s first licensed vaccine against a mosquito-borne disease that the World Health Organisation estimates infects 390 million people a year globally.

Hundreds of fourth-graders at a public school in metropolitan Manila’s Marikina city were given the first of three shots of Dengvaxia. Some of the pupils received their vaccination shot under the glare of cameras during a festive ceremony at a gymnasium festooned with multicolored bunting and preceded by songs and dances performed by the children.

The Philippines had the highest dengue incidence in the WHO’s Western Pacific region from 2013 to 2015, recording 200,415 cases last year, according to the Department of Health.

Health Secretary Janette Garin called the program’s launch “a historic milestone” in public health. “We are the first country to introduce, adopt and implement the first-ever dengue vaccine through (the) public health system and under a public school setting,” she said.

The government is spending 3.5 billion pesos (USD 76 million) to administer the free vaccines, which it bought at a discounted cost of 3,000 pesos (USD 65) for three doses for each child. Free vaccine programs ensure that “health should be for all, rich or poor,” Garin said.

The health department says a study showed that the vaccination of 9-year-old children for five years starting in 2016 can reduce dengue cases by 24.2 per cent in the Philippines. The vaccine is given as a three-dose series, with the doses coming six months apart.

Dengvaxia, developed by the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, obtained its first license in Mexico in December 2015 for use in individuals aged 9 to 45. Regulatory agencies in Brazil, the Philippines and El Salvador followed.

But the vaccine is awaiting regulatory reviews in Europe and dozens of non-European countries, as well as prequalification by the WHO.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a study of children from 9 to 16 years old showed that the vaccine reduces the risk of contracting dengue by 65.6 per cent. It also prevents dengue hospitalisations by 80 per cent, and severe dengue cases by 93 per cent.

But the effectiveness was lower for children younger than 9, as well as against the type of dengue caused by serotype 2 one of the four strains of dengue.