FORMER President Benigno Aquino III and former Health Secretary Janette Garin should come forward and prove their innocence over the P3.5-billion dengue vaccination program, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Friday, December 8.
In a press conference, Duque said it is high time that Aquino and Garin, who were both in office when the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia was launched, clear their names.
“It’s hard to second guess the former secretary of Health and also, the former president. But it’s really up to them if they would like to clarify several issues on the matter because they were the ones who made the very vital decision to procure the vaccines. And the circumstances, around which that decision was made, is something I’m not really privy to,” Duque told Palace reporters.
“So we just have to await what their testimonies will be. But it will be good for everyone – I believe strongly – it’s going to be good for everyone to come forward and to say his or her piece, and to explain. Otherwise, there will be too many speculations and sometimes, there are innuendos, every toxic speculations or innuendos,” he added.
The anti-dengue drive was inaugurated by Garin, a presidential appointee during the Aquino administration.
The vaccination program was suspended following the admission of Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi that individuals who have not been sick with dengue might be exposed to “severe dengue” after vaccination.
Palace and Health officials, however, have been quick to clarify that the “severe” dengue classification by Sanofi was “not deadly.”
Duque believed that the two former government officials followed the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in launching the vaccine program.
He was also confident that Aquino and Garin both “meant well” when they implemented the vaccination program.
“To prevent that (controversy) from snowballing, it might be good to tell the truth. Because I’m sure they actually meant well. I have no doubt that they did mean well. The (former) president and the (former Health) department head were guided based on the feedback and from the documentary evidence. (Also), the WHO guidelines were in fact followed, which were three,” Duque said.
“The guidelines include, number one, giving the vaccines to communities where there is 70 percent of population that has been exposed to dengue. Number two is that they should be given to children aged nine (and) to any individuals 45 years of age – nine to 45. And lastly, giving of the vaccines, to complete it.”
Duque said the health department would rely on the WHO’s one-page recommendation, when it comes to making “next steps” concerning the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.
He also revealed that the Health department had formed a task force that will closely monitor those who have been immunized with the vaccine.
Duque said the task force would be composed of top management officials from the DOH Department of Health’s (DOH) central office and other affected regions; the Food and Drug Administration; PhilHealth; and the National Children’s Hospital.
“This Task Force will conduct a thorough review of the dengue vaccination initiative which started in March 2016 and the new evidence on safety provided by Sanofi. This shall guide the Department of Health in responding to the safety concerns relevant to the use of this vaccine and how to proceed with the dengue program to ensure safeguards and prevent similar incidents in the future,” he said.
Duque said the task force would also have a legal team to look into the accountability of Sanofi.
He added that the DOH would demand the refund of the P3.5 billion paid for Dengvaxia.
He also reaffirmed the DOH’s commitment to heighten surveillance and monitoring activities on all 730,000 students vaccinated with Dengvaxia by hiring 30 additional surveillance officers in four regions where the anti-dengue vaccination activities were conducted.
“We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring our children for any adverse event following immunization, and will strengthen the readiness of our public hospitals in attending to any severe dengue cases that may occur,” Duque said. (SunStar Philippines)