Senate starts probe on dengue vaccine controversy


Posted at Dec 11 2017 10:19 AM | Updated as of Dec 11 2017 03:20 PM

MANILA - The Senate on Monday began its legislative inquiry into the Department of Health's (DOH) purchase of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia that spurred a health scare in the country.

The hearing would focus first on how the dengue vaccine was procured from French drug-maker Sanofi Pasteur, said Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the committee on Health and Demography.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and his predecessors Paulyn Ubial and Janette Garin were invited as resource persons, along with Nela Charade Puno of the Food and Drug Administration and Drs. John Wong and Cecilia Lazarte of the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Commission on Audit Chair Michael Aguinaldo are also expected to attend the hearing.

The DOH earlier this month suspended its vaccination program after Sanofi Pasteur admitted that its Dengvaxia vaccine may cause "more cases of severe disease" if given to those who have not had the mosquito-borne illness before.

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to approve the vaccine for individuals aged 9 to 45 years old in December 2015.

The government has since procured P3-billion worth of Dengvaxia intended for one million public school children in areas reported to have the highest incidence of dengue in 2015: in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON regions.

The vaccine was to be administered in three phases at 6-month intervals beginning April 2016.

Sanofi Pasteur's statement last month was the first time the pharmaceutical company acknowledged that Dengvaxia should not be recommended to individuals if they have never been infected with the dengue virus.

The manufacturer said it would ask health authorities to advise physicians and patients of the new information in countries where the drug has been approved.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin, who was at the helm of the agency when it started the vaccination program, earlier admitted to meeting with officials of the French firm in Paris in 2015 to discuss the dengue vaccine. But she clarified that there was no malice in the meeting.

She also explained that discussion on the dengue vaccine did not start during her term but began as early as 2010 during the time of her predecessor Enrique Ona.