The Philippines on Tuesday declared a national dengue fever epidemic after it caused hundreds of deaths so far this year in the wake of a government ban on the vaccine.
The nation from Jan. 1 to July 20 recorded 146,062 cases of dengue, 98 percent more than in the same period last year, the Philippine Department of Health said.
The outbreak has already claimed the lives of 622 people. The group worst affected have been children below the age of 10.
The outbreak follows a nationwide ban in February on the sale and distribution of the Dengvaxia vaccine made by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pateur.
The company had been at the heart of a scandal in the Philippines in late 2017 and last year, when dozens of children given the vaccine as part of a nationwide immunization program died.
The firm later said that the product could put some children at higher risk.
Dengvaxia is the only dengue vaccination available on the market, but the WHO recommends that it should only be given to those in high-risk areas who have already been exposed to the virus.
It is rarely used in mass immunization projects.
The nationwide panic and widespread mistrust of vaccinations caused by the scandal led immunization rates for dengue and measles to plummet, resulting in an ongoing measles epidemic and now a dengue epidemic.
There have already been more than 35,000 recorded cases of measles and almost 500 deaths, a 600 percent increase from last year.
To fight the dengue outbreak, the department said that it was conducting a campaign to focus on finding and destroying mosquito breeding sites, while also issuing guidelines for people to wear insect repellant and wear clothes that cover the skin.
Philippine Secretary of Health Francisco Duque said that the government was studying an appeal to reallow Dengvaxia, but ruled out using the drug to combat the ongoing epidemic.
“This vaccine does not squarely address the most vulnerable group, which is the five to nine years of age,” Duque said.
The vaccine, now licensed in 20 nations according to the WHO, is approved for use for those aged nine and older.
The WHO also advised Manila that the vaccine was “not recommended” as a response to an outbreak, Duque said, adding that it was “not cost effective,” with one dose costing 1,000 pesos (US$19.20).
Other Southeast Asian countries have also reported an surge in dengue cases this year, the WHO said.
Malaysia had registered 62,421 cases through June 29, including 93 deaths, compared with 32,425 cases with 53 deaths for the same period last year.
Vietnam over the same period had 81,132 cases with four deaths reported, compared with 26,201 cases and six deaths last year.
Bangladesh has been facing its worst-ever dengue fever outbreak, putting a severe strain on the nation’s already overwhelmed medical system.
Additional reporting by AP
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