Ethics of a partially effective dengue vaccine: Lessons from the Philippines
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Dengvaxia, a chimeric yellow fever tetravalent dengue vaccine developed by SanofiPasteur is widely licensed in dengue-endemic countries. In a large cohort study Dengvaxia was found to partially protect children who had prior dengue virus (DENV) infections but sensitized seronegative children to breakthrough DENV disease of enhanced severity. In 2019, the European Medicines Agency and the US FDA issued licenses that reconciled safety issues by restricting vaccine to individuals with prior dengue infections. Using revised Dengvaxia efficacy and safety data we sought to estimate hospitalized and severe dengue cases among the more than 800,000 9 year-old children vaccinated in the Philippines. Despite an overall vaccine efficacy of 69% during 4 years post-vaccination we project there will be more than one thousand vaccinated seronegative and seropositive children hospitalized for severe dengue. Assisting these children through a program of enhanced surveillance leading to improved care deserves widespread support. Clinical responses observed during breakthrough dengue infections in vaccinated individuals counsel prudence in design of vaccine policies. Recommendations concerning continued use of this dengue vaccine are: (1) obtain a better definition of vaccine efficacy and safety through enhanced phase 4 surveillance, (2) obtain a valid, accessible, sensitive, specific and affordable serological test that identifies past wild-type dengue virus infection and (3) clarify safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia in flavivirus immunes. In the absence of an acceptable serological screening test these unresolved ethical issues suggest Dengvaxia be given only to those signing informed consent.