Ex-DOH chief ready to face probe over Dengvaxia mess

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 05 2017 04:40 AM

Then Health Secretary Janette Garin speaks at the launch of the government's dengue vaccine program in April 2016. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file photo

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin on Monday said she is willing to face the consequences for her involvement in the government's controversial dengue vaccination program.

"I welcome the (Department of Justice) and Senate investigation. I will answer all questions at the right time, in the appropriate forum. (I) will also await clarity from (Department of Health) and (World Health Organization) as they are the authorities on this," Garin said in a statement to ABS-CBN News. 

"In the event that there will be authorities who will point culpability to me, I am ready to face the consequences," she added.

Garin said the multibillion-peso Dengvaxia vaccination program started before her tenure at the DOH.

"We fully cooperated and consulted with WHO prior to the implementation of this program. With the desire to resolve this deadly virus, the department started the vaccination program which has until now been seen to be strongly beneficial to 9 out of 10 Filipinos," she said.

Garin was undersecretary for the DOH Women, Children and Family Health Cluster before she was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III to lead the health agency in December 2015. She also served as representative of Iloilo's first district from 2004 to 2013.

Investigation is underway into the FDA-approved anti-dengue vaccine following last week's revelation from its manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur that the drug poses risk to people who had not been previously infected with dengue.

As of November 2017, about 733,713 Filipino children have been given the anti-dengue vaccine.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who called for a Senate probe on the procurement of the vaccines last year, on Monday questioned the Aquino administration's procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine.

"Parang hinabol sa eleksyon eh, I'm sorry to say that," he said.

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DOH assistant secretary Lyndon Lee Suy, in an interview with Bandila DZMM, said they welcome any investigation into the issue.

Several claims on Dengvaxia, such as allegedly raising risk of getting severe dengue, have caused a lot of confusion and scared the public, he said.

"Ideally, dapat kompletuhin ang bakuna. But temporarily on hold tayo, pending recommendation from WHO," Suy said when asked what parents should do if their children have been administered with the vaccine.

Suy also clarified they didn't hide any information on the vaccine.

"Apparently nabakunahan, after a week nagkaroon ng sakit, pero ang manifestation ay hindi naman dengue infection," he said regarding alleged deaths linked to the vaccine.

The government and Sanofi, Suy said, have also an agreement that the families of children immunized by Dengvaxia could go after the pharmaceutical company if they got sick because of the vaccine.

"Kapag meron nagkasakit at kailangan mapatunayan na dahil sa dengue yun o dahil sa bakuna, sagot nila yun. But it still has to be proven of course," he said.

'Dengvaxia won't cause severe dengue'

The dengue vaccination program will not cause anyone who was immunized to die, Sanofi and government authorities said on Monday.

After news outlets and some politicians in the Philippines expressed concern about the welfare of those immunized, the French pharmaceutical giant held a press conference in Manila to state that potential cases of "severe dengue" would not be fatal. 

"What is this severe (dengue)? When people think of 'severe', this already includes dengue shock that could lead to death, but no," Sanofi Pasteur regional head for dengue Joselito Sta. Ana told reporters.

Sta. Ana said Sanofi's definition of "severe dengue" merely referred to symptoms including two days of fever, a lower platelet count and bruising. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque also sought to allay fears, stating there was "no danger" with the Dengvaxia vaccine. 

"The worst that can happen is for those who have not had dengue before -- which is one out of 10 (Filipinos) -- they may get infected with dengue but falling under our previous classification of 'mild', having fever and bruises," Roque said. 

Nevertheless, the justice department announced Monday that the National Bureau of Investigation would investigate the vaccination program "over the alleged danger to public health". 

It warned in a statement that charges could follow. - with a report from Agence France-Presse