Atienza, Garin clash over Dengvaxia vaccine
MANILA, Philippines — A heated argument erupted between Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza and Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin during Tuesday’s House plenary session over the suspended implementation of the controversial Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.
Dengvaxia, manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, was used in the massive anti-dengue vaccination program during the tail end of the Aquino administration in 2016. Garin was the Health secretary at that time and was among the former officials who faced charges in connection with the vaccination drive.
In November 2017, Sanofi released results of its long-term follow-up study which showed that the vaccine could cause an increased risk to those who are seronegative or not yet infected with dengue. The program has since been suspended.
Atienza, who is not a medical doctor, said the “misapplication” of the vaccine had caused parents to fear vaccines. The congressman also hit the tetanus toxoid program implemented by the Department of Health in 1995.
“May nanagot na ba sa malaking abusong ginawa sa implementasyon ng Dengvaxia vaccination program na hanggang ngayon ay nagdudulot ng matinding takot at pangamba sa mga magulang?” Atienza asked.
[Has anyone been made accountable for the abuse on the implementation of the Dengvaxia vaccination program which, until now, brings fear and doubts to parents?]
Because of this, Garin, a medical doctor by profession, stood up and questioned why Atienza was allowed to speak and “spread misinformation that tetanus toxoid causes sterility.” Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc said Atienza’s concerns are allowed under the House rules.
Garin then asked the House Secretary-General to bring Atienza out of the plenary. She also demanded that a roll call be made before the session proceeds. The House counted 209 congressmen were present and a quorum was declared.
When the session resumed, Atienza dared Garin to a televised debate. He said the loser should resign as House member.
Garin vowed to resign if it would be proven that Dengvaxia had caused the deaths of children.
“I cannot please everybody but if Mr. Speaker, you know that the truth is behind your back, you will always stand up,” Garin said. “Because being afraid and failing to speak the truth and failing to defend the helpless children who badly need our vaccines is just like saying… you do not deserve to be called an honorable member, an honorable public official.”
Garin previously said that if the Dengvaxia vaccination drive was not suspended, the recent dengue outbreak in the country could have been prevented. She also appealed to DOH to “listen to real experts” in light of the recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, dengue, and polio.
Atienza’s speech and Garin’s interpellation had been referred to the committee on rules. The two lawmakers shook hands after the heated exchange. /muf
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