THE chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability investigating the
Dengvaxia controversy has asked health experts to voluntarily disclose their potential conflicts of
interest every time they make a statement in the media.
“The mere perception of a possible conflict of interest in this case may be enough to taint
or cast doubt on the opinion of a specialist, regardless of his or her credentials,” said Surigao
del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, the panel chairman.
Pimentel made the statement after it was revealed that former Health Secretary Esperanza
Cabral, who has publicly spoken and written about the Dengvaxia case, serves on the 11-member board
of trustees of the Zuellig Family Foundation.
“We actually have two multinational pharmaceutical companies involved here, not just one,”
Pimentel said, referring to Sanofi S.A., the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, and Sanofi’s Dengvaxia
distributor, Zuellig Pharma Holdings Pte. Ltd.
The lawmaker acknowledged that the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry “are
to some degree connected.”
Practicing physicians both in government and the private sector tend to receive many offers
from the pharmaceutical industry, such as advanced overseas scholarships, subsidized participation
in international conferences and lucrative consultancies, according to Pimentel.
“This is how moneyed pharmaceutical firms grow their influence – by cultivating gainful
relationships with physicians and regulators who also happen to be doctors,” he said.
“In this case, it is quite possible a number of experts offering their opinion on the
controversy may owe either Sanofi or Zuellig, or both, a debt of gratitude, which should be
voluntarily disclosed in the interest of impartiality,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel’s committee is looking into the previous administration’s questionable purchase of
some three million doses or P3.5 billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccines in January 2016.
Under the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino and then-Health Secretary Janet
Garin, the Philippines became the first country in the world to launch in April 2016 a public
inoculation plan against dengue using Dengvaxia.
However, in November 2017, Sanofi released the negative findings of its long-term follow-up
study which showed that children who never had dengue but who were given Dengvaxia shots had an
increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.