Doctors warn of substandard, fake vaccines vs Japanese Encephalitis

September 17, 2017 - 3:01 PM
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Phil. Star file photo of the mosquito culex variety.

MANILA – The Philippine Pediatric Society, Pediatric Infectious Society of the Philippines, and the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases have warned the public against purchasing vaccines supposedly for Japanese Encephalitis, as these could be counterfeit and substandard.

They also stressed the importance of the cold chain for vaccines, which keeps vaccines at a specific temperature until it is administered to the patient.

According to Dr. Salvacion Gatchalian, the vice president of the Philippine Pediatric Society, they don’t administer vaccines if these were just brought by parents to them to be given to the children.

Pano ba dinala ng nanay? Baka naman nasa bulsa lang niya, o nasa bag lang. Siyempre delikado, na-break na ‘yung cold chain nun (How did the mother transport it here? What if it was just in her pocket, or in her bag? That’s dangerous, the cold chain was broken by then). And cold chain is one of the more sensitive issues that we have to address with vaccines, because they are very sensitive to changes in temperature, so the temperature has to be really maintained between 2 to 8 degrees centigrade,” she explained.

Sanofi Pasteur, the only duly licensed manufacturer by the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration of the Japanese Encephalitis-chimeric vaccine (JE-CV), stressed during a recent press conference in Makati City that there was no scarcity of the vaccine, “because (it) is available in all authorized channels.”

Gatchalian herself the vaccine was available in her clinic.

However, Sanofi Pasteur country regulatory head Jervin Papelleras acknowledged that there had been an increase in demand that they were trying to meet.

He expected the supply of the vaccine to normalize “in the coming months”.

According to the World Health Organization, “Vaccination against JE virus is the single most important preventive measure.”

There is no specific treatment for the mosquito-borne disease, which is fatal in 20 to 30 percent of cases. Among those who survive, 30 to 50 percent result in permanent disabilities like learning difficulties and paralysis, said Gatchalian.

Japanese Encephalitis, transmitted by the Culex species, particularly the Culex tritaeniorhynchus, can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), leading to high fever, headache, fatigue, vomiting, confusion, and in severe cases, seizures, spastic paralysis, and coma.

The disease occurs all over the Philippines, all year round, but particularly in rural and agricultural areas.

Gatchalian was actually surprised about the recent concern about the disease, as it had always been present. She surmised that this was because people had become more aware due to social media.

In a press release, the Department of Health said it actually recorded a 44 percent decrease in laboratory-confirmed Japanese Encephalitis cases all over the country as of August 26, compared to the same time last year.

Nevertheless, the DOH said it was “firming up plans to introduce JE vaccination among young children in 2018.”

Gatchalian noted that Japanese Encephalitis mainly affects children younger than 15 years old.

The vaccine for it was first licensed in the Philippines in 2013. According to Sanofi Pasteur, JE-CV is administered as a single dose for those nine months and older.

For those nine months old to 17 years old, a booster dose is recommended to be given from 12 to 24 months after the primary dose.

Asked how safe the vaccine was, Gatchalian replied, “No vaccine is completely safe, nor completely effective.”

Side effects included fever, headache, and body aches lasting for two to three days. But these go away on their own, she added.

However, she said, “We do not recommend it for pregnant women.”

Those who wished to get vaccinated should go directly to their physicians, Gatchalian added.

As for the cost of getting vaccinated, neither Gatchalian nor Sanofi Pasteur representatives could say. The prices varied from clinic to clinic.

Reporters at the event cited the DOH as saying it could cost P3,500 to P5,000, and a newspaper report said it could range from P2,000 to P4,000.

Sanofi Pasteur advised the public to guard against the disease by using bed nets, repellents, long-sleeved clothes, coils, vaporizers, and other mosquito control measures.

Meanwhile, the DOH shared these reminders on Facebook.