February 26, 2018, 3:09 am
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Aquino asked to explain meetings with Sanofi officials

FORMER President Benigno Simeon Aquino III should explain what transpired during his two meetings abroad with officials of Sanofi Pasteur, manufacturer of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, prior to his approval of its inclusion in the April 2016 mass dengue vaccination. 

“Absolutely. He should. To clear this, because everybody is just speculating...It is for his own good,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a television interview.

Duque said Aquino met officials of Sanofi Pasteur in Paris on December 2015.

Months after that, the Philippines became the first country to undertake a mass immunization program using Dengvaxia.

“The former president himself should just come forward and say ‘This is what happened and this is what I agreed to based on sound recommendation that I followed because somebody advised me’,” said Duque.

Sen. JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health and demography, said Aquino also met with Sanofi officials in Nov. 9, 2014 in Beijing, China before the contract to purchase P3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccines was bagged by the French company.

Ejercito said the meetings have to be taken into account, along with the timeline when Sanofi cornered the contract.

“That’s something to look into also... it will be unethical that they were able to bag the P3.5-billion contract and there should be transparency,” he said during Kapihan sa Senado.

“Why there were two instances, one in France, and also in China. What were the officials of Sanofi doing in China meeting with our President?” he added.

When told that the meeting was official and was actually announced, Ejercito asked why there is a need to hold a meeting before the plan to procure the vaccines.

The Philippines approved the sale of Dengvaxia in December 2015 and the vaccination program began in April 2016 under then Health Secretary Janette Garin.

The Senate and the Department of Justice have already set the investigation on the dengue vaccine mess.

Ejercito said it is up to the Blue Ribbon committee to invite Aquino in the hearing.

The panel started its investigation on the accountability of previous officials in the alleged anomalous purchase of the anti-dengue vaccine last year. 

The hearing is scheduled to resume on Monday.

Ejercito said Garin and former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial were invited to attend the hearing.

MENTAL DISHONESTY

Duque said he believes that Sanofi was not being totally transparent when it explained the potential ill effects of the dengue vaccine in its recent media conference.

He noted how Sanofi openly acknowledged seeing Grades 1 and 2 dengue symptoms while not observing Grade 4 but was silent on Grade 3.

“That is what I wanna ask them. You said you observed Grade 1 and Grade 2 but never observed Grade 4. But why didn’t you say you observed Grade 3? Why?” he asked.

“There they should have been more transparent or forthright in saying if there are any or none (Grade 3)... There seems to be an element of mental dishonesty here somewhere,” he added.

Duque is referring to the recent press conference held by Sanofi officials, wherein they downplayed the supposed definition of “severe” manifestations of dengue.

Meanwhile, Duque said he is not yet ruling out the possibility that a recipient of Dengvaxia in Bataan had died in October 2016 due to its ill-effects.

He said he has yet to see the documents on the death of Christine Gomez de Guzman.

He said the Department of Health (DOH) is looking at the possibility of exhuming the body of the child as part of its full investigation on the vaccine mess.

“I was told that she was buried without autopsy. The autopsy would have been definitive,” he said.

Ejercito also filed a bill detaching the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the DOH, and turning it into an independent agency to strengthen its regulatory capacity.

Senate Bill No. 1631, which is an amendment to Republic Act No. 9711 or the FDA Act of 2009, proposed that the FDA be placed under the Office of the President.

“I just thought if the FDA is an attached agency of the DOH, it is already compromised…We just want to be sure that they will not be compromised,” Ejercito said.

Under the measure, the FDA would be headed by a director-general, with the rank of a department secretary who would be a member of the Cabinet.
 
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