MANILA - Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told lawmakers at a House Committee on Health hearing that there was nothing wrong in the P3.5 billion dengue vaccination program undertaken by the Aquino administration before it ended its term of office.
According to Ubial, she was excluded from the discussions in the executive committee of the Department of Health (DOH), even as she sought to explain why her initials appeared on some of the documents that gave the green light to the project.
"I was absent in all the dengue vaccine discussions in the executive committee during this period. I was busy at Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC) February 5, 2016," she said, reiterating that there is nothing irregular with the transaction.
"What I did not know at that time of signing that the vaccine was to be used in one million subjects. Usually, the pilot for new vaccines is 20,000 to 40,000 and the most we piloted is 300,000 for PCV or pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. It was worth P3.5 billion and immunization was scheduled to happen in a month's time," Ubial also said.
During the hearing, Ubial was grilled about the positions she took on the project.
"I deferred to the wisdom and the decision of the experts that recommend to me the action to be taken because I admitted that I am not an expert on the dengue vaccine. So, 'yun po nangyari na every time we move forward in this initiative, we convene an expert panel so that based on the scientific and logical thinking of scientists and experts [we decided] what would be the next step to take in moving forward the dengue vaccination program," she told reporters in an ambush interview.
(I deferred to the wisdom and the decision of the experts that recommend to me the action to be taken because I admitted that I am not an expert on the dengue vaccine so that's what happened, every time we move forward in this initiative we convene an expert panel so that based on the scientific and logical thinking of scientists and experts what would be the next step to take in moving forward the dengue vaccination program.)
Health Committee chair Helen Tan told reporters after the hearing that the project appears to have met government standards on procurement.
"On the issue ng procurement, napresent naman ang timeline but still, there were questions from the members on the process so the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) said, nasa batas naman at nagawa ng DOH yung nasasaad sa batas but still there were questions bakit sa dengue vaccine ginamit ang savings na meron ang DOH. Marami pa pong 'di nasagot sa mga katanungan ng mga members," she said.
(On the issue of procurement, they were able to present the timeline but there were still questions on the process so the DBM said it followed the law, and the DOH also followed the law but still there were questions why the agency's savings was used in the dengue vaccine. There were a lot of questions yet to be answered.)
The DOH launched the School Based Immunization Program in April 2016 and administered the first dose of the vaccine to Grade 4 students or school children aged 9 years old and above in regions of the country, with the highest number of dengue cases, specifically those from the National Capital Region (NCR), Southern Luzon and Central Luzon.
Earlier this year, the DOH’s vaccination program received flak from health advocates who decried it as "rushed," and the vaccine potentially harmful, launching a House probe on its implementation.