Palace: We won’t take Dengvaxia issue sitting down
Malacañang on Tuesday said that it would use the full force of the law on the culprits behind the P3.5-billion dengue vaccine fiasco.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the government was not taking the issue sitting down and noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had suspended the sale, distribution and marketing of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in the Philippines.
“We would like to assure the public that we’re not taking the Dengvaxia issue sitting down,” Roque said in a press briefing.
“And that if there are people or if there will be culprits and if it is proven that there’s a cause of action against them, then this administration will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against them. But so far, let us [wait] for the investigation,” he added.
Roque noted that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has opened an investigation to determine who should be held accountable for the fiasco.
“The DOJ has already commenced with its investigation. They have included even former President [Benigno] Aquino in their investigation. Let’s [wait] for the results of the investigation,” he said.
Dengvaxia is made by the French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur, which released findings last week that the vaccine could worsen symptoms in people who had not previously been infected.
The Department of Health (DOH) suspended its dengue immunization program after Sanofi’s announcement.
Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, during whose term the implementation of the government’s dengue vaccination program continued, said on Tuesday that she initially had hesitation about the use of Dengvaxia.
“[I] told Secretary [Janette] Garin about it,” Ubial said referring to her predecessor at the DOH during whose term the dengue vaccination program started.
“At that time there was already a decision from higher than the secretary of health,” Ubial added.
“I was kinda expecting it,” Ubial said when asked to comment about the controversy now hounding the vaccine.
“I was against it as [assistant secretary], but had to do damage control when I became [secretary of health]. What will I do with P2.5 billion worth of vaccines when FDA, [World Health Organization] and DOH expert panel resolved it was safe to complete the three doses,” Ubial said.
According to her, medical groups had raised issues about longer-term safety involving the vaccine.
Garin to face probe
On Sunday, Garin welcomed the inquiry set by the Senate and the investigation ordered by the DOJ.
“I will answer all questions at the right time and in the appropriate forum. I will also wait [for clarification] from the DOH and WHO, as they are the authorities on this,” Garin said.
“In the event that there will be authorities who will point culpability to me, I am ready to face the consequences,” she added.
Garin said the immunization program was implemented in accordance with WHO guidelines and recommendations.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said that Aquino and Garin would be able to face the Senate inquiry, after Sen. Richard Gordon said Aquino and Garin could be held criminally liable for the fiasco.
In a joint statement, Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan and Bam Aquino said they supported the inquiry, as the lives of thousands of children “are at stake here.”
“We must ensure that the investigation will not be selective and will cover all periods of implementation of the program,” Pangilinan said.
Refund from Sanofi
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government was considering asking Sanofi to refund the P3.5 billion the government paid for the vaccine used in its immunization program.
Duque said, however, that the DOH had yet to examine thoroughly the data and documents regarding the matter.
“Of course we’re considering a refund. If it is proven that they did not disclose a material or a very important information that could have influenced the result we’re seeing now … they will be held accountable. They have accountability if they did not disclose it earlier. We will make sure that somebody will be held accountable,” Duque said.
He said P1.4 billion worth of vaccines were stored at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
The DOH said more than 733,000 schoolchildren aged 9 and over received at least one dose of Dengvaxia during the immunization drive last year.
For schoolchildren who have not yet completed the three doses, Duque said vaccination was on hold pending the DOH study of the data and documents from Sanofi.
Duque said he had directed the production of a master list of recipients of the vaccine.
Health workers will then do a profiling of the recipients and take down their medical history, he said.
Health workers should report to the DOH cases of children who received the vaccine who got hospitalized, he said.
Duque said the DOH had formed an expert panel that would study all the documents and data. The panel will then recommend to the DOH executive committee whether to proceed with the vaccination program.
He added that the suspension of the immunization program also covered private health practitioners. —With reports from Tina G. Santos and Christine O. Avendaño
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