Drug maker Sanofi defends dengue fever vaccine, says it is safe

Friday May 4 2018

A child in Manila gets the anti-dengue vaccine.

A child in Manila gets the anti-dengue vaccine. The Philippines has halted the use of Dengvaxia. AFP PHOTO 

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Global pharmaceutical Sanofi has defended its dengue fever vaccine, which the World Health Organisation says needs to be used with caution.

Sanofi head of operations in Africa Jon Fairest said the drugmaker is doing everything to make sure that Dengvaxia — the world’s first dengue fever vaccine — is safe for use.

“We are confident and we’ll prove that the vaccine has the potential to reduce the disease burden in all the endemic countries, including Africa,” he told The EastAfrican in Nairobi.

“Our research team is working with WHO to ensure the best and safe use of the vaccine is followed.”

The WHO has recommended that the vaccine be used only after testing on individuals to assess whether they have ever been exposed to the infection, a move that is likely to shrink the vaccine market for the French company.

Mr Fairest said the company has invested in over 20 years of research, data collection and there was no way they could produce a vaccine that was substandard or in any way different from what the WHO approved.

“Every year, we spend about €60 million ($70 million) in research for vaccine development. Before our drugs or vaccines are approved by WHO we have to adhere to strict guidelines and undergo thorough scrutiny throughout our trials and drug development process.

“We are therefore following closely with WHO to ensure that we all come to the best possible consensus on the use of the vaccine,” he said.

Mr Fairest spoke last Wednesday while opening the Sanofi regional office in Nairobi, which will cover Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. He said the company is looking into entering into partnerships with the Ministries of Health, professional bodies and other social organisations to build capacity and equip healthcare workers with  skills to effectively address the challenges posed by non-communicable diseases.

“Our focus will be on innovation in healthcare and disease management in the region,” said Mr Fairest.

He said that despite all the negative information about Dengvaxia, there has been no evidence linking the vaccine to any of the 14 deaths reported in the Philipines.

“The vaccine is still safe and effective for use, which is why it’s still being used in other countries where it is licensed,” he said.

In November last year, Sanofi revealed that Dengvaxia may increase the risk of severe disease in people who had never been exposed to the virus.

The news sparked an uproar in the Philippines, where more than 700,000 school-age children had been vaccinated.

The Philippines government then ordered an investigation into the immunisation programme.

The attorney’s office has also filed a law suit demanding compensation for the parents of a 10-year-old girl the agency said had died as a result of receiving the anti-dengue vaccine.

Early this month Philipines Health department halted the use of the vaccine in the country, and Brazil where the disease burden is high, restricted the use of the vaccine.

The WHO said it hoped by the end of the year to conduct a full review of data on Dengvaxia.