January 24, 2018, 3:53 am
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Andanar on Dengvaxia mess: Somebody has to be accountable

COMMUNICATIONS Secretary Martin Andanar yesterday said that while the dengue vaccine program was undertaken in good faith by the previous administration, it does not exempt anyone from the previous government from any accountability or responsibility for the P3.5 billion mess.

“What is important here is...whoever should be held responsible should be held accountable because the 800,000 plus who were injected is not a joke. Even if the government meant well, let’s say the past administration, but there still must be accountability,” Andanar told dzMM.

“Does it mean in the future, if another mistake is committed in the vaccination program regardless if the vaccine is for dengue or other sickness, if another mistake happens, no one will be held accountable? It should not be that way. What are we? Are Filipinos, guinea pigs? We are not guinea pigs,” he added.

Andanar said the dengvaxia scare should not affect the other vaccination programs of the Department of Health (DOH).

President Duterte earlier expressed belief that the dengue vaccine program was implemented by the previous administration in good faith.

The President had said that had he been in the position of his predecessor , he would have pushed for its implementation especially after being promised that it would save lives.

Duterte, however, said he would wait for the results of the different investigating bodies.

Last Thursday, former President Bengino Aquino III told a Senate inquiry that no one protested before he approved the purchase of Dengvaxia, while he was still deciding, and even after he decided.

He said Dengvaxia was given to 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon because data from the Department of Health showed they were the areas most affected by dengue in 2015.

Sanofi Pasteur recently released the negative findings of its long-term follow-up study of Dengvaxia, the world’s first-ever licensed anti-dengue vaccine.

It showed that “people who never had dengue but who were given the shots had an increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.”

The DOH suspended the anti-dengue immunization drive on Dec. 1, after Sanofi Pasteur conceded that Dengvaxia could worsen symptoms for vaccinated people who contracted the disease for the first time.

The Food and Drug Administration has also since blocked the sale, distribution and marketing of the vaccine in the Philippines.

Sanofi Pasteur is the vaccines division of French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi S.A.

THE chair of the House committee on good government yesterday backed the government’s demand for Sanofi Pasteur to refund the P3.5 billion that it received for the Dengvaxia vaccines.

Rep. Johnny Pimentel (PDP-Laban, Surigao del Sur) said Sanofi has to return the payment as demanded by President Duterte and the Department of Health.

“This is the right thing for Sanofi to do. The sooner they give us back the money, the better,” said Pimentel, whose panel held a joint inquiry with the House committee on health on the health risks posed by the Dengvaxia vaccine to schoolchildren.

Pimental also urged Sanofi Pasteur to establish an indemnity fund, as proposed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, to pay for the future hospitalization and treatment of Filipino school children who may be rendered sick after receiving Dengvaxia shots.

The DOH has said it will also demand that Sanofi cover the hospitalization expenses of those who will contract severe dengue because of the vaccine.

Malacañang last week said the President was standing by the recommendation of the DOH to hold Sanofi responsible, including the demand for refund for Sanofi’s “concealment of a material fact and that is that children who have not developed dengue may acquire the disease three to six years after the vaccination.”

Pimentel warned that officials who will be found liable in the Dengvaxia mess will face graft charges and may be penalized with up to 15 years in prison and perpetual disqualification from public office.

Under the law, Pimentel said entering into any contract or transaction that is deemed “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous” to the government constitutes a corrupt and unlawful practice.

Pimentel likened the purchase of Dengvaxia boosters to buying an automobile that turns out to be a lemon – a product that is unsatisfactory and defective.

“The hustled purchase of P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia shots in 2015 may be considered highly detrimental to the government,” Pimentel said.

The President has said he has no plans of filing cases against any former president for the Dengvaxia mess since he believes that the former administration undertook the dengue vaccine program in good faith.

The Senate committee on health and demography is set to conduct a separate hearing on the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy to focus on the health issue and mitigating measures to address problems that may arise from the vaccination program.

Committee chair Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the separate hearing will give medical experts and members of the academe ample time to discuss health issues of the program.

During the previous hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, the panel focused more on the procurement of Dengvaxia from Sanofi Pasteur by the previous administration, Ejercito said.

“It’s possible to conduct a hearing on the health aspect so that health experts will be given the chance (to testify). I have to consult the medical experts and members of the academe. (The previous hearings) centered on the procurement (process),” he said.

Ejercito also said he will await the findings of the DOH and the World Health Organization on the investigations they are conducting on the Dengvaxia. The WHO is currently conducting investigations in other countries that procured Dengvaxia.

He also reiterated the liabilities of former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former Health Secretary Janette Garin on the mess. During the previous hearing, Abad said the P3.5 billion budget to procure the vaccines was sourced through the savings from Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund and not from the General Appropriations Act of 2015.

He said under the law, then President Aquino could realign the savings for programs necessary. – With Wendell Vigilia and JP Lopez
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