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Senate grills Sanofi, ex-DoH officials

  • Written by Camille P. Balagtas
  • Published in Top Stories
  • Read: 640

AMID the controversy over the P3.5 billion procurement of anti-dengue vaccines,  Sanofi Pasteur
officials faced the Senate investigation to shed light on the question of potential health risks posed
by Dengvaxia vaccine to hundreds of thousands of Filipino children who received it and the alleged
unseen hands believed to be behind the approval of the immunization program.

Former officials of the Department Health which include controversial former Health
Secretaries Janet Garin and Paulyn Ubial were present in the hearing including current DoH chief
Francisco Duque III.

Health Secretary Duque assured the Senate investigating committee chaired by Sen. Richard
Gordon that the present DoH has hired 30 surveillance officers to closely monitor the health of the
beneficiaries of the Dengvaxia vaccine.
    
Senator Gordon who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon committee said the investigation is non-
partisan but the anomaly in the purchase of these vaccines should be unmasked citing the fact that the
lives of  Filipino children who received the vaccines are at stake.
    
During the hearing Secretary Duque revealed that DoH immediately suspended the dengue
vaccination program after vaccine producer Sanofi Pasteur made such revelation about the vaccine and
its effect.
    
Last November 29, the French pharmaceutical company admitted that its vaccine posed serious
health risks to those who had never contracted dengue.
    
Health Secretary Duque described the move of Sanofi Pasteur as mental dishonesty and lacking
in forthrightness as he insisted that the pharmaceutical company failed to mention the effect of the
vaccine on Grade 3 dengue symptoms.
    
“My index of suspicion is so high.  I am pregnant with doubt.  We are talking of life and
children.  We should be on the side of caution,” Duque said during the hearing.

Conspiracy
    
Gordon maintained that there is malice in the procurement of the vaccine considering the
questionable meeting of former President Benigno Aquino and former Secretary Garin with officials of
Sanofi Pasteur on December 1, 2015.
    
Looking at the timeline prior to the Aquino government’s procurement of the vaccines, Gordon
said: “There were very strong signs of conspiracy” to buy the Dengvaxia medicines. He questioned the
apparent over-eagerness in the procurement of the anti-dengue vaccines.
    
“There were extreme speed and undue haste.  To be able to release money needs a very high
influence coming from the President to get the funding from the Finance Department.  What is the
justification because there was no pandemic of dengue that time. It is very hard to get funding from
the SARO. Very suspicious,” Gordon said as he cited that following the meeting of former President
Aquino, December 21, in less than a month, which is not normal, a declaration of savings was done.

When earlier asked if Gordon believes ex-President Aquino’s “fingerprint” is on the case,
Gordon said he is just stating the obvious.
    
“Former President Aquino was the one who met with officials of Sanofi. And (former Health)
Secretary (Janet) Garin had the courage to make that trip to Paris to meet with executives of Sanofi
prior to PNoy’s meeting with them in December of 2015,” he said.
    
Gordon, in his privilege speech last year, said the government’s P3.5-billion immunization
deal with Sanofi smacks of a “midnight deal” given as it was approved on Dec. 29, 2015 before the
start of the 2016 May election campaign period.
    
“I cannot imagine that after that Dec. 23 nag-issue na ng memo si Secretary Florencio Abad and
December 28 the SARO (budget) was already issued.” Gordon asked.

Gordon said it was surprising that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Dengue
Vaccine 21 days after President Aquino’s meeting with Sanofi officials in Paris.
    
“The FDA must be independent from political interference,” Gordon insisted.
    
Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial confirmed that there was no World Health Organization
guideline yet when they purchased the vaccines.
    
It was during the Aquino administration when the government procured the vaccines which were
administered to around 830,000 children. Between 8 percent and 10 percent of those inoculated
had not previously contracted dengue, according to the DoH.

Sen. Joseph Victor JV Ejercito, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and
Sen. Loren Legarda, chair for Senate Committee on Finance, also joined the Senate investigation.

“This is a public health issue and the lives of our children is at stake,” Ejercito said.
    
Ejercito said his panel has decided to hold in abeyance its own investigation into the issue
and wait for the World Health Organization’s report on the case.
    
He raised the possibility of a class suit that these people might file against Sanofi Pasteur.
    
“We must not give vaccination a bad name but Sanofi has earned a reputation for bribery in
various parts of the world,” Gordon said as he challenged the Office of the Ombudsman to file the
necessary charges against those who are involved in the anomalous purchase of this vaccine.
    
Former Health Undersecretary Hartigan Go was also grilled by Gordon for allegedly pushing for
the vaccines saying delicadeza should have been observed by Go considering the fact that he used to be
connected with Zuellig Pharma, the alleged distributor of the vaccine.
    
Gordon also lambasted Sanofi Vice President Tomas Triomphe for allegedly selling a product
that is not yet ready for the market without the proper testing.
    
“You have to make sure that this product will not have a negative result to our children. This
vaccination issue gave vaccination a bad name,” said Gordon who also expressed alarm on the expiry
date of the Dengvaxia medicine.
    
Triomphe denied that vaccine will harm children.
    
According to Triomphe, 19 countries including the Philippines purchased Dengvaxia and 18
countries did not suspend the vaccines.