FORMER president Benigno Aquino 3rd said that he would have ordered the suspension of the dengue vaccination program had French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur presented to him its study about the risk its anti-dengue vaccine posed to recipients who have not been infected with the mosquito-borne illness.
“So kumbaga, ang pangako noong Sanofi, ginawa nila ‘yung apat para sigurado na nga na wala na ‘tong risk…na mas malalang impeksyon ‘pag nagkaroon ng panibago ngang impeksyon. Ngayon po, nung November 2017, bigla na lang iba na yata sinasabi…dadagdagan bigla na kung hindi ka pa na-impeksyon dati e pwedeng lumala itong impeksyon na susunod,” Aquino told the House of Representatives on Monday as to whether he would have suspended the immunization program had Sanofi briefed him about its November 2017 findings.
(The promise of Sanofi at that time was that the administration of the vaccine four times would ensure that there is no longer a risk of infection. Now with the November 2017 study, Sanofi is saying suddenly that infection can worsen for first-time dengue patients if the vaccine is administered before the illness.)
Aquino told the Committees on Health and Good Government and Public Accountability that as a layman, what he understood from Sanofi was that the vaccine was good for “all four serotypes” because of the development of anti-bodies that would ensure maximum protection against dengue.
He said that was why he was surprised with the November 2017 study that was the exact opposite of what was presented to him when he was president.
He said that if he had any doubts, he would not have gone through with the purchase and distribution of Dengvaxia.
The Department of Health (DoH) ordered the suspension of the immunization program after Sanofi Pasteur admitted that Dengvaxia provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever “in those who had prior infection.”
“For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” Sanofi said.
Dengue, which is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is an acute viral infection, which may result in death if left untreated.
Over 830,000 Filipino children have received the vaccine when the announcement to stop the program was made.
Sanofi Pasteur is facing a civil suit after it refused to refund P1.6 billion worth of the used vials and set up an indemnification fund for the alleged victims of the vaccine.
It only agreed to refund the unused vials because it argued that if it did a full refund, it would appear as though the Dengvaxia was ineffective, which was not the case, according to Thomas Triomphe, head of the Asia-Pacific Region.
“I have forwarded the letter to the Legal Department and ordered that a civil suit be instituted against Sanofi Pasteur,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said last week.
Aquino also defended his administration’s decision to use savings of Department of Budget and Management for the procurement and use of Dengvaxia.
Former Budget Secretary Butch Abad said: “MPBF (Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund) is a legitimate source of fund,” when asked by Rep. Carlos Zarate during the hearing to justify the Aquino administration’s use of savings.
He added that this was authorized under the “release and use of funds” provision provided “that the president will augment an efficient item of appropriation.”
On December 29, 2015, the DBM issued a P3.5-billion Special Allotment Release Order to former Health secretary Janette Garin’s office to purchase the vaccines.
The Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) made a P3-billion purchase order for the vaccines. REINA TOLENTINO, CATHERINE MODESTO