Healthy Living

Mexico Approves The World's First Dengue Fever Vaccine

The mosquito-borne disease kills some 22,000 people each year.

The first-ever vaccine for dengue fever -- a viral illness spread by mosquitoes that sickens up to 400 million people worldwide each year -- has been approved for use in Mexico.

In an announcement Wednesday, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi said the vaccine, called Dengvaxia, was developed over two decades and underwent testing on 29,000 patients.

Mexican health authorities have approved the vaccine to prevent all four dengue virus strains in children and adults ages 9 to 45 who live in areas where the disease is endemic, according to a release.

“We are making dengue the next vaccine-preventable disease,” Olivier Charmeil, executive vice president for vaccines at Sanofi, said in an interview with the New York Times.

Mexico's federal medical safety agency reportedly said the vaccine could help prevent 104 deaths and 8,000 hospital admissions a year, as well as save about $65 million in annual health expenditures.

"Dengue is a growing health threat in Mexico and many other tropical and subtropical countries in Latin America and Asia," José Luis Arredondo García, associate director of clinical research at Mexico's National Institute of Pediatrics, said in the release. "The first vaccine approved to prevent dengue fever is a major innovation and a public health breakthrough."

In trials, Dengvaxia had an average rate of effectiveness of about 60.8 percent in protecting against the four strains of dengue currently circulating around the world. As the Associated Press notes, this is "relatively low for a vaccine," as those for measles and polio, for example, have effectiveness rates of more than 95 percent.

But the vaccine does do better protecting against the severe form of dengue fever known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal if left untreated. Sanofi said in its release that the vaccine "prevented 9 out of 10 cases of severe dengue and 8 out 10 hospitalizations due to dengue in this age group."

Symptoms of dengue fever typically begin within a week of being bitten by an infected mosquito and often last between two and seven days. They include fever, rash, joint or muscle pains, headaches, or pain behind the eyes, and, though often debilitating, they can be effectively managed if recognized and treated. Dengue's nickname is "breakbone fever."

Mexico's National Health commissioner Mikel Arriola speaks during a interview Wednesday in Mexico City about the first-ever vaccine against dengue fever, which will be publicly available for the first time after being cleared for use in Mexico
Mexico's National Health commissioner Mikel Arriola speaks during a interview Wednesday in Mexico City about the first-ever vaccine against dengue fever, which will be publicly available for the first time after being cleared for use in Mexico

Mexico's approval of the vaccine comes as Hawaii battles the largest outbreak of the mosquito-borne illness in the state since the 1940s. As of Tuesday, the Hawaii Department of Health had confirmed a total of 145 cases of locally acquired dengue since September.

One Hawaii-based company is also working on its own preventative treatment. Hawaii Biotech Inc. was awarded a contract by the U.S. Army last week to develop an “effective dengue vaccine to protect military personnel against this potentially mission-aborting disease.”

Today, the disease is endemic in more than 100 countries and kills an estimated 22,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Severe dengue affects most southeast Asian and Latin American countries, where in some of them it has become a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children.

Sanofi spent more than $1.6 billion developing and creating its treatment, according to BBC News. While a price has not yet been announced, the company says the first doses of its vaccine have already been produced and full scale production will reach 100 million doses annually.

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