Ona: DOH head after me ‘solely responsible’ for dengue vaccine program
Former Secretary Enrique Ona said his successor at the Department of Health is “solely responsible” for the dengue vaccination program using the Dengvaxia vaccine.
“In the light of the Sanofi Pasteur advisory on the use of the antidengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DOH after I left in December 20, 2014 is solely responsible for all the decisions that has resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today,” Ona said in a statement.
Ona was Secretary of Health for four and a half years, from June 2010 to December 2014.
“During this period, the Sanofi Pasteur Pharma group would request a briefing for me on the status of the clinical trial of their anti-dengue vaccine being tested (phase 3 trial) in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, as well as several countries in South America. This occurred almost annually during my term as Secretary,” he said.
According to him, it was of great interest to him since dengue fever is not only rampant in the Philippines, almost appearing all year round, and was also being used as one of the “measures of our public health performance” by the public.
“I had high hopes, like many others, that the vaccine being developed would eventually control this mosquito-borne disease that afflicts more than a hundred thousand Filipinos (patients) annually and scares so many foreign visitors and tourists,” the former health chief said.
Unfortunately, he added, during all this time until the end of his term, the Sanofi staff, though optimistic, never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use.
Ona said the pharmaceutical firm only gave a vague projection to him of the time when it may be ready for launching.
“I recall in more than one occasion that I mentioned in passing to then President Aquino of a possible dengue vaccine that maybe ready ‘anytime soon’,” he said.
“However, we did not allocate any budget for dengue vaccine for 2016 since I considered this vaccine as still at its ‘developmental stage’ and was undergoing further observation and evaluation,” he stressed.
Ona said he was already out of the government in 2016 when he first heard that the DOH was going to purchase the dengue vaccine to be given to children above 9 years old.
“And allocating several billion pesos, an amount more than the entire budget for all other vaccines being procured by the DOH annually,” he added.
“It may be relevant …. to cite an article at one of the world’s most respected and credible journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, September 24, 2015 issue which concluded: the efficacy profile at 25 months of disease surveillance was complex — efficacy caused by serotype 2 ranged from 67-80 percent and lower still for those who were seronegative at baseline,” Ona said.
He said the report came with a separate accompanying editorial entitled “A Candidate Dengue Vaccine Walks a Tightrope” by Cameron P. Simmons, Ph.D.
“If read by any expert in infectious diseases or public health would have made one wait for more follow up studies to further evaluate the safety and efficacy, sans cost. In short, ‘value for money,’ so essential in today’s health environment,” he added. /je
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