Parents in the Philippines are refusing to give their children polio, chicken pox and tetanus jabs amid a health scare over a dengue vaccine, which is blamed for the deaths of an estimated 14 children, although the number might rise.
The government warned at the weekend of a significant fall in immunisation rates against preventable diseases, sparking concerns about epidemics.
The “anti-vax” movement follows the suspension of the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia in December after it was injected into more than 830,000 children since 2016.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that a clinical review conducted by a team of Philippine General Hospital forensic pathologists determined the deaths were not linked to the vaccine.
Sanofi, the French company which developed Dengvaxia, has rejected a government demand to return tens of millions of dollars paid for the vaccine.
Manila asked the French pharmaceutical giant to refund 3.2 billion pesos (US$62 million) spent on Dengvaxia.
Sanofi last month agreed to reimburse the Philippine government half the total, for unused doses of Dengvaxia, but said this week that it would not pay for the used doses.
“Agreeing to refund the used doses of Dengvaxia would imply that the vaccine is ineffective, which is not the case,” a Sanofi Pasteur statement said.
The firm said that there had been no deaths in clinical trials conducted on the vaccine over more than a decade or in the over 1 million doses of the drug administered.
Last November Sanofi said its vaccine could worsen dengue if it was given to people who had not previously been infected.
The Philippines has one of the world’s highest fatality rates for the mosquito-borne disease, with 732 deaths reported in 2017.
Dengue or haemorrhagic fever, the world’s most common mosquito-borne virus, infects around 390 million people in more than 120 countries each year and kills more than 25,000 of them, according to the World Health Organisation.
The mass immunisation programme had caused a damaging psychological impact, said Enrique Domingo, the Philippine health under-secretary.
“Our programmes are suffering . . . [parents] are scared of all vaccines now,” he said. Immunisation rates for some diseases had fallen to 60 per cent, significantly lower than in recent years, and below the 85-per-cent target, Domingo told the media.
On Monday, Sanofi rejected a separate health department request to set up an indemnification fund to cover hospital treatment for vaccinated children who were infected with severe dengue.
“Should there be any case of injury due to dengue that has been demonstrated by credible scientific evidence to be causally related to vaccination, we will assume responsibility,” it said.
Philippines is reeling from the injection scandal. Picture credit: Pacific Air Forces