PHARMACEUTICAL giant Sanofi’s decision to refund the unused Dengvaxia vaccines will not affect the investigation into the controversial dengue vaccination program, Malacanang said on Tuesday.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque gave the assurance after Sanofi agreed to the demand of the Department of Health (DoH) to refund the cost of the unused vials of Dengvaxia which, Secretary Francisco Duque said, was estimated at P1.4 billion or $27.8 million.
The demand was contained in a letter Duque wrote last week to Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi Pasteur in the Asia-Pacific.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Roque reiterated the government’s position to demand for a full refund of the P3.5 billion that was used to purchase the controversial vaccines under the Aquino administration.
“We welcome that refund but the position of the Department of Health is for a full refund. Now nonetheless we view this latest step of the pharmaceutical company as a step in right direction,” Roque told reporters.
“We highlight that the refund will in no way affect ongoing investigations which will ultimately determine whether or not there’s criminal culpability on the part of Sanofi,” he added.
On Monday, however, Duque said he would ask Sanofi to refund the entire P3.5 billion.
“We will ask for full refund eventually but for the meantime we want the immediate withdrawal of vials of vaccines that are still stored with our cold chain storage facilities,” Duque said in a chance interview with Senate reporters.
Sanofi said the reimbursement was not because of safety or quality issues. It said it wanted to keep doing business with the Philippine government and correct public perception on the vaccine.
“[Sanofi] strongly believes that this tone is due to a misunderstanding of the benefits and risks associated with the dengue vaccine and a lack of awareness amongst the general public, particularly parents of vaccinated children, that the overall benefit of dengue vaccination remains positive in high endemic countries like the Philippines,” Sanofi added.
Sanofi has been in hot water after admitting that the anti-dengue vaccine, administered to about 830,000 individuals, may cause a more severe case of dengue for first-time patients.
Authorities have been investigating the deaths of 14 children who were among more than 830,000 given Dengvaxia last year in the world’s first public immunization program against dengue.
The Health Department suspended in December the dengue immunization program based on an advisory by Sanofi. The Food and Drug Administration ordered the recall of the medicine in the same month.