But ex-DOH chief insists no malice in meeting
MANILA - Former Health Secretary Janette Garin on Friday backtracked on her earlier denials and admitted to meeting with officials of French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur in Paris in 2015 to discuss the dengue vaccine.
"Tama po 'yun, nagkamali po talaga ako kasi I was being asked on a dinner that happened 2 years ago," Garin told ABS-CBN News' Henry Omaga Diaz in an exclusive interview.
Garin had previously confirmed setting foot in Paris in May 2015 but denied she ever dined with Sanofi officials to discuss the Dengvaxia vaccine. She only met with the French Health Minister, she told ABS-CBN News in an interview in May 2017.
The former health chief's admission was in response to a recent ABS-CBN News report on her dinner with Sanofi officials, which raised questions on the propriety of the meeting and her ethics as a public official.
Garin, however, clarified that there was no malice in the meeting and that she did not fly to Paris only to dine with the drug firm's executives.
"Kung may malisya 'yun, bakit mayroon tayong kasamahan from DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs)? 'Yung una po kasi talagang intention eh lalabas po ba 'yung bakuna? Kailan ba? Magkano ba talaga presyo?" she explained.
Asked whether she discussed the pricing of the vaccine with Sanofi, Garin nodded and noted that talks on a dengue vaccine as well as its price began as early as 2010.
"Kung mayroon akong tinatago, I will not do it in the presence of DFA. Alam naman natin na transparent 'yan," she said.
Garin also confirmed that she suggested bringing in the private sector to launch the vaccine in the Philippines.
It was during Garin's term as health chief that the Philippines cleared the use of the dengue vaccine in December 2015.
Since then, government's immunization program has long been hounded by controversies on the drug's efficacy and price, among others.
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 has been given to about 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas, per government data.
It was only last week that Sanofi 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.
Government has since suspended the immunization program and stopped sales of the drug.