Garin tags ex-health chief Ona in dengue vaccine decision

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2017 09:43 PM | Updated as of Dec 08 2017 10:03 PM

Former Department of Health secretaries Janette Garin and Enrique Ona. Composite

MANILA- Former Health Secretary Janette Garin on Friday tagged her predecessor Enrique Ona in the controversy surrounding the country's now-suspended dengue immunization program.

Speaking to ABS-CBN News, Garin said talks on the dengue vaccine did not start during her term but began as early as 2010 during the time of then-Department of Health (DOH) chief Enrique Ona.

"Hindi po ito decision na ako lang. Hindi po ito sinimulan lang nung pagpasok ko," she said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News' Henry Omaga Diaz.

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"I think June or July [2014], Secretary Ona already announced na magkakaroon ng bakuna ng dengue by 2015, probably middle (of the year), and the department is contemplating putting it in their public health program, pero sinabi rin niya na wala pa 'yung presyo at di pa napag-uusapan," she said.

She also confirmed that the vaccine reportedly being considered by Ona then was Dengvaxia made by Sanofi Pasteur, the same brand eventually procured by the government for its dengue immunization program. 

"Base dun sa imbestigasyon, si Secretary Ona daw [ang nagsimula]," she said.

ABS-CBN News reached out to Ona for comment. As of posting, he has yet to respond. 

Last week, the drug maker issued a warning against its own dengue vaccine, saying the drug may cause more severe symptoms on people who have not contracted the mosquito-borne disease. 

The government spent P3.5 billion to purchase Dengvaxia for one million public school children in regions reported to have the highest incidence of dengue in 2015.

As of November, the vaccine had been given to about 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas, per government data. 

Following Sanofi's warning, government suspended the immunization program and stopped sales of the drug.

Garin says Ona initiated dengue cure 'experiment'

Garin noted that Ona's "experiment" with a supposed cure for the dengue did not earn the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine, and was also met with criticism inside the DOH.

She called Ona's alleged experiment on a supposed cure "unethical," and noted that she did not push through with it during her term and focused instead on the dengue vaccine since the World Health Organization (WHO) was also actively studying the drug at the time. 

It was during Garin's time as head of the Department of Health that the Philippines cleared the use of Dengvaxia and began the national dengue vaccination program.

Garin admitted that she too had questions over Sanofi's recent warning and is waiting for clarifications on the matter.

"Hintayin po natin 'yung isasagot ng WHO at 'yung sinabi nga ni [current Health] Sec. [Francisco] Duque na pinapa-clarify sa Sanofi na ano 'yung press release nila na 'yun kasi ako rin nagkakaroon ng maraming katanungan," she said.

"Meron ba silang (Sanofi) mga tinagong impormasyon? Meron ba silang hindi sinabi sa amin? Mayroon ba silang di sinabi sa WHO? At nagkakaroon din ako ng katanungan bakit after this announcement eh 'yung Brazil tuloy-tuloy pa rin 'yung kanilang programa at ngayon nga ay they are preparing for the dengue vaccination next year," she said.

Garin reiterated she is willing to face an investigation into the controversy.

In the interview, Garin also backtracked on her earlier denials and admitted to meeting with Sanofi executives in Paris in 2015 to discuss the dengue vaccine.