FORMER Health secretary Paulyn Ubial said she had some misgivings in continuing the dengue immunization program using Dengavaxia amid the advice of some experts with regard to its effects, as well as because of some perceived political agenda.
“I dilly-dallied. It was intentional because of the issues raised by Dr. (Leonila) Dans and his team and Dr. (Anthony) Leachon. There were issues of long-term safety and so I had to be very careful, go the extra mile, extraordinary diligence in implementing this program,” she said.
She also said that some members of Congress “pressured” her to continue the program, which was started during the administration of then president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“I had no hidden agenda. It was unfortunate that before I became secretary of health I was assistant secretary of health and at that point in time, sometime in March 2016 I was already objecting to the introduction of [the]dengue vaccine,” Ubial said during the Senate investigation on the Dengvaxia controversy.
She said pilot studies of a new vaccine were usually done on a small group — in 2002 on 40,000 people. “This vaccine has clinical trials for 20 years covering 40,000 people only. Why will you give it to one million children in one given year?”
“We do not, introduce and I told that to my program managers and that was unwritten law in the EPI (expanded program on immunization), we do not introduce new vaccines during election year because no matter how good that vaccine is,” she said.
“The introduction during election year will taint it as a hidden agenda of somebody. That’s why we do not mix health and politics. It will destroy the vaccine even if it is effective and it is very safe,” she said.
Ubial was the first health secretary of President Rodrigo Duterte. She was replaced by Francisco Duque, former health secretary of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected her interim appointment.
“When I became health secretary I’m sorry to say, and I would like to tell this that, it was very difficult for me to implement this program. But I had no recourse. I was already on damage control,” Ubial said.
“People were telling me, I wanted to stop the next delivery because only 200,000 were delivered in March (2017). The next delivery will be in August and in January (2018). I wanted to stop that to save the Filipinos P2 billion,” she said.
“But even in Congress, (they) were telling me, you will go to jail doctora if you do not implement this program. Because there is a contract you have to honor that contract and the expansion (of the program) to Region 7,” Ubial said.
She added: “Whatever decision I had, I had to vet it to an expert panel because I do not want to appear that I made unilateral decision or arbitrary decision because when I was assistant secretary I was already objecting to the roll-out of this vaccine.”