Suit proves PAO didn’t start vaccine scare – Acosta
Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta on Sunday claimed vindication after the indictment of former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 19 health and pharmaceutical officials for the deaths of eight schoolchildren allegedly due to the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
“This is proof that we did not create the vaccine scare [that led to the] measles outbreak,” Acosta said.
“It was this criminal liability of Garin that tainted the public’s trust in vaccines. It was this indiscriminate mass vaccination and underdistribution of safe vaccines that caused the alleged scare and outbreak,” she added.
Amid a deadly measles outbreak, the Department of Health (DOH) and medical groups have blamed Acosta’s office for the drop in the immunization rate, citing her claim that some children died after being vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
“There is a medical link [between the deaths and Dengvaxia] and we were able to establish that in the preliminary investigation [of the Department of Justice],” Acosta said.
“We feel vindicated by the findings of the DOJ. Our tireless efforts for the families of victims have paid off,” she added.
The DOJ announced last Friday that it would file eight counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Garin, nine DOH officials, two officials of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and six directors of Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc.; and four counts against two officials of the Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee that investigated the failed immunization program, on Sunday expressed doubt that the charges to be brought against Garin and the others would prosper in court.
“They only focused on the complaint about the deaths [of those inoculated with Dengvaxia]. But there’s no problem with those deaths,” Gordon said in a radio interview.
“You know why? Because it has yet to be proven that [Dengvaxia] is the principal cause of the deaths. We really don’t have any evidence to support [that allegation],” Gordon said.
He said those who approved the dengue immunization program, including then President Benigno Aquino III and then Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, should be charged with graft and flouting the procurement law.
Gordon said it was evident that Aquino and two of his Cabinet officials violated the law by releasing with undue haste the budget for the immunization program a few months before the 2016 elections.
“What they did was really unlawful. There was illegal procurement and they haphazardly ordered the vaccination. The problem started with them,” Gordon said.
No charges were recommended against Aquino and Abad, but Malacañang said on Sunday that the two former officials were not yet off the hook.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Aquino and Abad were still facing charges of technical malversation over the procurement of Dengvaxia supplies.
The government spent P3.5 billion for the Dengvaxia immunization program that began to be implemented in April 2016.
More than 830,000 schoolchildren had already received at least one dose of Dengvaxia by the time the DOH suspended the program on Dec. 1, 2017, after Sanofi announced that the vaccine could worsen symptoms in vaccinated people who had no previous exposure to the dengue virus.
Sanofi refunded the government P1.4 billion for unused doses of the vaccine, but the DOH said it wanted a full refund.
A panel of six prosecutors led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Emilia Victorio said Garin and the others were careless and hasty in implementing the dengue immunization program in schools.
The DOJ said the officials fast-tracked the purchase of Dengvaxia without waiting for the clinical trials to be finished, and did not screen the hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren before vaccination.
Sanofi officials were faulted for allegedly failing to monitor the recipients and not extending medical assistance when serious adverse reactions were reported.
“They already knew the high risks in conducting the mass immunization of Dengvaxia without blood test and screening, yet they still proceeded with it,” Acosta said.
She said she would ask the DOJ to reconsider its decision to clear Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, a former DOH officer in charge and executives of vaccine distributor Zuellig Pharma.
“There were over 10 deaths during the term of Duque when he pursued the immunization program in November 2017. He deliberately ignored the documented warnings of Filipino experts as early as March 2016,” Acosta said.
The PAO has so far filed 35 complaints for the deaths of 33 minors, a doctor and a police officer allegedly due to Dengvaxia.
The DOJ is expected to resolve soon eight cases while it is conducting a preliminary investigation in 13 other cases.
The crime of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide carries a penalty of imprisonment of up to six years. —With reports from Marlon Ramos and Julie M. Aurelio
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