DOH: Over 3,000 students hospitalized after Dengvaxia shot

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday, April 13 said that over 3,200 students who received the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia as part of government's school-based immunization program were hospitalized following their vaccination.

The DOH said in a statement Friday that from March 2016 to March 2018, a total of 3,281 students were hospitalized in different public and private hospitals for "various illnesses." 

"The DOH will shoulder the cost of their treatment through PhilHealth. The remaining expenses will be paid through the DOH's Medical Assistance for Indigent Program," Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo said in the statement.

The health department also revealed that 1,967 out of the 3,281 patients "were found to have contracted dengue as confirmed through clinical and serological tests."

"65 deaths were also reported which are now under investigation," the DOH added. It later noted that over 98% of those hospitalized were eventually sent home.

"Hence, the DOH reiterates the importance of seeking early consultation as soon as signs and symptoms are noted in order to prevent more severe and even fatal complications."

Context: The Senate and the House of Representatives conducted investigations into the school-based dengue immunization program after Sanofi Pasteur issued an advisory in November 2017 that Dengvaxia could cause more severe cases of dengue if administered to a person who had not been previously infected by the virus.

The DOH has since suspended the program, and tapped experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital to validate alleged deaths due to Dengvaxia. According to the experts, 3 out of the 14 cases showed indications that the deaths were related to dengue despite them getting the vaccine, but said further tests had to be conducted.

The Public Attorney's Office is also exhuming bodies and conducting forensic examinations of other vaccinated children, but its findings have been questioned by both public health experts and lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon recommended this week in his draft report the filing of corruption charges against former president Benigno Aquino III, former health secretary Janette Garin, and former budget secretary Florencio Abad, citing alleged haste in the purchase of the dengue vaccine.

Figures: Here are other figures to remember in relation to DOH's response to the Dengvaxia controversy.

P20 million - DOH's allocation to 4 regions covered by the school-based dengue immunization program as initial financial augmentation to the regional offices' Dengue Assistance Program

P17 million - As of April 5, this is the estimated amount of financial assistance that has been given to patients who got sick and were admitted to hospitals in the 4 regions, namely, Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Cebu.

P1.16 billion - The refunded amount from Sanofi for the unused dengue vaccines. DOH is waiting Congress' approval to use this amount to implement the Dengvaxia Assistance Program.

"This amount will expand the assistance being given by the DOH to the children vaccinated with Dengvaxia and will cover the medical assistance program for hospitalization, outpatient health care services for Dengvaxia recipients, deployment of nurses to monitor vaccine recipients in schools and communities and dengue prevention kits," the health department said, referring to the P1.16 billion. – Jee Y. Geronimo/Rappler.com