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No recommendation to use Dengvaxia, WHO clarifies

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday clarified that it has never recommended to countries to introduce the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine to their immunization programs.

In a statement, WHO said such recommendation was not included in its position paper released in July last year.

"WHO's position on the dengue vaccine was published in July 2016, based on recommendations of the strategic group of experts on immunisation which met and published preliminary advice in mid-April 2016," WHO said.

It added, "The WHO position paper did not include a recommendation to countries to introduce the dengue vaccine into their national immunization programs."

Last week, Sanofi Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical firm and manufacturer of Dengvaxie, admitted that the vaccine may aggravate the disease in people who have not been afflicted previously by dengue.

At the time of the admission, more than 733,000 public school children aged nine years old and above in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon received three doses of Dengvaxia, considered as the world's first dengue vaccine. The vaccination program was rolled out in April 2016.

WHO, in its statement, said the Department of Health's (DOH) decision to roll out the vaccine had been taken before its advice became available.

The group said instead of making a recommendation, its position paper "outlined a series of considerations national governments should take into account in deciding whether to introduce the vaccine, based on a review of available data at the time, along with possible risks."

The outline included:

  • Use of the vaccine should only be considered in areas where a high proportion (preferably at least 70 percent) of the community had already been exposed to the virus;
  • the vaccine should only be provided to people 9 years of age and above; and 
  • people being vaccinated should receive 3 doses.

"WHO acknowledged mid-April 2016 that these conditions appeared to be met in the 3 regions of the Philippines in which the dengue vaccination effort was already ongoing at that time — noting that the decision to roll out the vaccine had been taken by the DOH before WHO's advice became available," the statement read.

Nevertheless, WHO said it is supporting the DOH's decision to suspend the vaccination program.

"This is appropriate in the circumstances," it said. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News