Philippines halts sale of dengue vaccine as Sanofi downplays risk

05 Dec, 2017
The Philippines has ordered French drugmaker Sanofi to stop the sale, distribution and marketing of its Dengvaxia dengue vaccine in the country after the company last week warned it could worsen the disease in some cases.

The move comes days after the Southeast Asian nation suspended a government programme to immunise hundreds of thousands of children with Dengvaxia following Sanofi's findings released last week. Sanofi shares slid over 1 percent on Tuesday to a 10-month low.

"In order to protect the general public, the Food and Drug Administration immediately directed Sanofi to suspend the sale/distribution/marketing of Dengvaxia and cause the withdrawal of Dengvaxia in the market pending compliance with the directives of the FDA," the Philippine government agency said in a statement on its website on Monday.

The FDA also directed Sanofi to conduct an information dissemination campaign and said all drug establishments should report any incidents if the vaccine was suspected to have caused death or serious illness to any person.

But Sanofi said the risk of severe dengue occurring in previously uninfected people who were inoculated with Dengvaxia was around two in 1,000 and these individuals recovered with treatment.

"Only one in 800 of all dengue infections (including symptomless infections) could lead to a severe infection, and the increased risk identified from the new analysis translated to two additional cases of 'severe dengue' out of 1,000 previously dengue-uninfected people vaccinated over five years of follow-up," the company said in an emailed statement.

"In this group, all fully recovered with proper medical treatment."

Sanofi officials said on Monday in Manila that there had been no reported deaths related to the vaccine which was used to immunise nearly 734,000 children aged 9 and over in the Philippines.

They have received at least one dose of the vaccine as part of a government programme that cost 3.5 billion pesos ($69.13 million).

Severe dengue case

One 12-year old girl in Tarlac province, north of the Philippine capital Manila, who completed the three-dose vaccine treatment, showed symptoms of severe dengue, Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo told Reuters by phone.

The Department of Health has recommended that she be moved to a Manila hospital for closer monitoring, but Bayugo said she has already shown signs of improvement with her platelet count recovering.

Dengvaxia, the first approved dengue vaccine, had been forecast by Sanofi to eventually bring in nearly $1 billion in annual sales.

But even recent more modest analysts' sales forecasts are now looking unattainable given the safety issue and clinical evidence revealing unequal protection against different strains of dengue.

The World Health Organisation said on Monday it hopes to review safety data this month on Sanofi's dengue vaccine which the company said was approved in 19 countries and launched in 11.

Most sales have come from the Philippines through its government immunisation programme, and Brazil, where the state of Parana has seen a three-fold increase in dengue in the past few years.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne tropical disease that kills about 20,000 people a year and infects hundreds of millions.

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