MANILA (Reuters) - The office of the Philippine president on Sunday vowed to hold accountable those responsible for a suspended dengue immunisation programme, which it said placed thousands of lives at risk.
The Department of Health (DOH) halted on Friday the use of a dengue vaccine made by Sanofi after the company said its use must be strictly limited due to evidence it can worsen the disease in people who have not previously been exposed to the infection.
"We will leave no stone unturned in making those responsible for this shameless public health scam which puts hundreds of thousands of young lives at risk accountable," Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.
More than 730,000 children, ages 9 and up, received one dose of the Dengvaxia vaccine last year. The immunization programme is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization for mass vaccination in highly endemic countries, health officials said on Friday.
Although dengue is not as serious as malaria, it is spreading rapidly in many parts of the world. The virus kills about 20,000 people a year and infects hundreds of millions.
While Sanofi’s Dengvaxia is the first-ever approved vaccine for dengue, scientists already recognised it was not perfect and did not protect equally against the four different types of the virus in clinical tests.
A new analysis from six years of clinical data showed that Dengvaxia vaccine provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection.
But for those not previously infected by the virus, more cases of severe disease could occur in the long term following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection, Sanofi said.
Roque said there had been no reported case of "severe Dengue infection" since the vaccine was administered and called on the public "not to spread information that may cause undue alarm."
Health Secretary Francisco Duque has said his department would track the medical history of the thousands of children who were vaccinated and intensify its surveillance to ensure proper care would be given to anyone who may need it.
Senators said over the weekend they would call for an investigation into the dengue immunisation programme to find out what actions the government needed take to protect those who may be exposed to the drug's negative effect.
Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate's committee on health, told reporters he wanted to know as well if there was any irregularity in the procurement of the vaccine.
Sanofi Philippines said it would issue a statement on Monday.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Mark Potter)