One Faulty Vaccine Spurs Anti-Vaxxer Movement in the Philippines
By Jay Zhou, Staff Writer
Dengvaxia is a newly formulated vaccine used to treat Dengue Fever, a horrendous disease that causes immense pain — its nickname, “breakbone fever,” attests to the amount of pain it causes. In December of 2015, the Philippines became the first Asian country to approve the commercial sale of Dengvaxia. A huge vaccination campaign was launched soon afterwards, allowing the inoculation of almost one million people in the Philippines. However, after a thorough study, health officials reported that the vaccine actually increased the risk of a severe and even a deadly condition for more than 100,000 children.
The French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur has spent the past 20 years and almost 2 billion dollars to develop this vaccine. The company also tested the vaccine globally with more than 30,000 children. Dr. Scott Halstead, who has studied the Dengue Fever for more than 50 years with the U.S. military, was appalled by the data and suspected that there was a problem with the vaccine. In most cases, the vaccine seemingly increased the risk of developing a deadly condition for children who had never been exposed to this disease before. A regular vaccine works by introducing the “tamed” virus to people’s bodies and triggering the immune system to produce antibodies that will fight it off. However, Dengue antibodies don’t always fight off the disease and sometimes worsen the condition. The antibodies serve as a “bridge” to allow the Dengue virus to quickly infect other places in the system so a second infection — when the system already has antibodies in it — could be a lot worse than the first. This puts the patient at a higher risk of developing severe complications such as plasma leakage syndrome.
In July 2016, despite the controversies, the World Health Organization recommended the vaccine for all children under from ages 9 to 16. Unfortunately, Dr. Halstead’s fear was confirmed in November 2017 when Sanofi Pasteur soon found evidence that the vaccine could lead to more severe syndromes. In a follow up study, the pharmaceutical company indicated that the vaccine only raises the risk of hospitalization after a dengue infection from 1.1% to 1.6%. In other words, out of 1 million kids who were inoculated, 1,000 of them would be expected to be hospitalized over the next five years.
Ever since the Dengvaxia controversy, many parents in the Philippines have lost their faith in vaccines; only 21% of the parents in 2018 still believe in that vaccines are useful, falling from 82% in 2015. As a result, vaccine coverage has also dropped and the Philippine is now facing a measles outbreak that has already resulted in more than 355 deaths in 2019. There must be stricter regulations and increased awareness regarding newly developed vaccines in order to earn back the people’s trust — this way, one faulty vaccine should not be able to influence people’s beliefs in the necessity of vaccines to maintain the health of a population.