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Dengue Vaccine Gets Green Light As Cases Soar in Central Vietnam

In the midst of a dangerous dengue epidemic in south-central Vietnam, medical professionals are giving the go-ahead to a preventive vaccine for the deadly virus.

According to Al Jazeera, the Dengvaxia drug has been greenlighted for use in Mexico. The vaccine, produced by French-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, has been tested on 29,000 patients worldwide and has an average efficiency rate of 60.8% against all four strains of dengue, according to World Health Organization statistics, the news outlet reports.

While this is a relatively low rate of efficiency for a vaccine – most preventive vaccinations have a rate of 95% or higher – the Dengvaxia news comes at a good time, as Vietnam is currently grappling with a spike in dengue cases throughout its south-central provinces, reports Vietnam News.

According to the news outlet, Khanh Hoa province health officials handled over 9,400 dengue-related hospitalizations in 2015, a tenfold increase over the previous year. Since October alone, the province has seen 2,500 cases. Further north in Binh Dinh, four dengue-related deaths have occurred in just the last few weeks. In Saigon, too, the numbers look pretty dire: dengue cases have risen 80% in the last year. Though health officials are currently investigating the epidemic and evaluating some province's dengue prevention efforts, the possibility of a preventive vaccine could make a world of difference for people living in affected areas.

Sanofi, the producer of the Dengvaxia drug, claims that while its efficiency rate is low, the vaccine prevented nine out of 10 cases of severe dengue and eight out of 10 hospitalizations due to dengue. As the Binh Dinh General Hospital's pediatric ward swells to 300 patients, one-third of which are suffering from dengue-related illnesses in its 100-bed facility, these are welcome statistics.

Around the globe, dengue viruses currently affect 390 million people each year, particularly in tropical countries like Vietnam, and has recently begun to spread elsewhere. Today, half of the world's population – 3.9 billion people – lives in an area affected by dengue, according to Vaccines Today. In 2012, an outbreak on the Portuguese island of Madeira signaled dengue's first cases in Europe; there have also been reports of dengue in the United States.

If successful in Mexico, Dengvaxia is later expected to arrive in Southeast Asia, though there is no timeline for this just yet.

[Photo via The Star]

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