THE Department of Health (DOH) decision to suspend its P3-billion dengue vaccination program raised concerns that money may have been a factor in the controversy.

What made the Health department implement the program despite doubts over the efficacy of the vaccine? As it turned out, the DOH had to stop the program because of a new analysis that showed the vaccine, Dengvaxia, was more of a risk than a prevention. The analysis showed that the vaccine could cause severe dengue fever to those who have not been previously infected with the virus. Was it money that made the Health department implement the vaccination program?

But the Health department never figured in recent surveys on the most corrupt government offices in the Philippines. The “usual suspects” are the Bureau of Customs and the Land Transportation Office.

The 2017 Social Weather Stations Survey Review showed that the Bureau of Customs was the least sincere among different agencies of the government in fighting corruption. This was based on the perception of businessmen surveyed. The next least sincere was the Land Transportation Office.

The list went on to include those with “poor” sincerity ratings such as the House of Representatives, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine National Police, and the Department of Budget and Management.

Eight government agencies got neutral ratings, nine agencies received moderate ratings, and nine got good marks. The DOH was one of the nine that got a good sincerity rating. This meant that survey participants saw the DOH as one government office that was sincere in its efforts to fight corruption.

What then happened to the DOH that it is now the subject of speculations that money passed hands?

The Senate and the Department of Justice will look into possible culpability of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur that produced the Dengvaxia and the Health department for refusing to heed the warnings of medical experts on the vaccine’s potential dangers. Senator Risa Hontiveros also wanted to know how the DOH acquired the vaccine.

Pharmaceutical companies are known to have lobbyists in and out of government but the DOH decision to use the vaccine should not have been the result of lobby effort. The decision should have been based on proven results, with the safety of Filipinos as primary concern.

An earlier report said the DOH used the vaccine after it was licensed for use in the Philippines by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2015. The DOH decision last December 1 to suspend its use was based on the Sanofi advisory on the risks.

As to the DOH’s anti-corruption efforts, the reason the department had a good rating in fighting graft and was controversy-free in its administration until now was its leadership.

Now, with the vaccine controversy, the damage being done to the DOH image is a blow to the legacy of its past leaders who worked hard to keep the agency clean.