Mosquito borne illnesses pose a significant threat to human health. In the past several years, drug makers have begun developing vaccines for viruses like dengue, Zika, and chikungunya, all of which pose unique risks to billions across the globe. One of them just went terribly, terribly wrong.
Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of the multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi, has the problem. In a press release distributed last Wednesday, Sanofi reported that new analysis of long-term safety data for its dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia®, revealed that the vaccine may not be safe or effective for individuals who have had no prior dengue infection. The Philippines was the first country in Southeast Asia to approve the vaccine. It has since been administered to more than 600,000 schoolchildren in three highly-endemic regions of the country in the world’s first public dengue immunization program.
The vaccine received regulatory approval in the Philippines in December 2015, and the school program took effect just over three months later. Numerous local public health officials have claimed that the program was initiated too hastily. Susan Pineda Mercado, the former undersecretary of the Philippine’s Department of Health (DOH), has characterized the program in a Facebook post as “the biggest government funded clinical-trial-masked-as-a-public-health-program scam in the history of the DOH.”