ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Hope is on the horizon as trials for a dengue fever vaccine continue. “Today, we are very excited to be in the last stage of clinical development. We are confident that we will be the first with a dengue vaccine within a few years. A dengue vaccine will fulfill an unmet medical need and change the lives of millions of people across the world,” said Olivier Charmeil, President and CEO of Sanofi Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical company that has been working since 1992 on developing an effective and safe vaccine.
A phase 3 trial was conducted involving 10,275 children ages 2 through 14 throughout Southeast Asia in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, and proved promising results.
The vaccination reduced incidence of the disease by 56 percent. Although ideally 80 percent would protect both individuals vaccinated and reduce the transmission of the disease to those not vaccinated, this is a serious advancement compared to 0 percent.
Dengue fever is a serious disease transmitted by mosquitoes that has increased in severity over the years. In 1970, only nine countries had severe epidemics of dengue fever and today that number has spiked to over 100 countries throughout Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 2.5 billion people, or the equivalent of 40 percent of the world’s population, live in areas at risk for dengue fever.
Urbanization and increased travel have exacerbated the amount of people affected every year. Now between 50 million and 100 million people are infected per year. An estimated 500,000, of which most are children, develop the severe form of the disease, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, and must be hospitalized.
Hospitalization of such large amounts of people puts strain on already limited medical resources. Infected children can no longer go to school and parents must spend time with them in the hospital instead of working.
So many children in the hospital “drains the public health budget so it becomes a big economic problem,” says Dr. Arunee Sabcharoen, who is head of the vaccination trial at Mahadol University in Thailand.
There is currently no specific cure for the disease and as the prevalence of risk increases, the need for an effective and affordable vaccine becomes an ever more pressing need.
The results so far have left those involved hopeful for further advancements, but there are still steps to be made. Another phase 3 trial is planned to take place in Latin America to test the vaccine’s efficacy in other regions.
Sanofi’s efforts have been commendable; however, the issue has been raised that this vaccine requires three visits throughout the year to administer. In areas with poor health care systems, this can be extremely challenging.
Another company, Arbovax, hopes to soon begin human testing for the vaccine they have been working on that would only require one shot and still provide long lasting prevention.
Malcolm Thomas, CEO of Arbovax, says their “patented technology is safe, efficacious and cost effective to produce.” When produced in high volumes, doses can be less than 50 cents, making the prevention of dengue fever affordable for those at risk in even the most challenging of economic situations.
Immunizations are an important part of keeping populations healthy in multiple ways. They save an average of 2 to 3 million lives per year, of which most are children.
Each life saved is a life able to contribute to society. Immunizations can help reduce the amount families must spend on hospitalization and treatment, while increasing the amount of time they can spend working and bettering the economic situation of themselves and their families.
Hopefully, the clinical trials continue to have positive results so that less people per year have to suffer the consequences of dengue fever.