'Mixing politics and health a disaster': Ubial admits delaying dengue program

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 11 2017 04:02 PM | Updated as of Dec 11 2017 05:44 PM

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MANILA - Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial admitted Monday she wanted to stop the P3.4 billion dengue vaccine program initiated by the previous administration but had no choice for fear of landing in jail for violation of an existing contract. 

"It was very difficult for me to implement this program but I had no other recourse. I was already on damage control," she said during a Senate probe on the procurement of the vaccine Dengvaxia. 

Ubial said even when she was an assistant secretary for the health department under the Aquino administration, she had already opposed the immunization program.

The former health secretary said a pilot study for a new vaccine usually involves a small group of 40,000 people at most. Social preparation for this usually takes a couple of years, she added. 

She said she was against implementing the program during an election year as "mixing politics and health" will only result to a "disaster."

"The process by which the new vaccine was introduced was messed up. It was not FEC (Formulary Executive Council) approved yet. But they were buying already," said Ubial. 

"That created a lot of pressure on all the people who will approve the FEC exemption and a lot of pressure on the people that will implement the program," she added.

Ubial said she tried to avoid unilateral decisions during her stint as health secretary because of her previous opposition to the vaccine program and she had to consult an expert panel first.

But when the expert panel gave the go signal, while the World Health Organization came out with the guidelines, she said she had no choice but to resort to "dilly-dallying" on its implementation.

Ubial said she has no regrets delaying the program even though it led to her removal. The delay in the vaccination program was one of the issues raised during Ubial's confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments, which eventually rejected her.

"What Cong. Harry Roque accused me of being a flip-flop? It's because of that. I was worried in implementing this program. I dilly-dallied. That was intentional because of the issues," she said.

Sanofi Pasteur, a division of French drug firm Sanofi, said at the end of last month the vaccine itself may in some cases increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients not previously infected by the virus.

The Philippine government has suspended its dengue immunization program for public school students.