A nurse arranges boxes of Sanofi’s dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in a refrigeration machine at a local health center in Manila yesterday. AFP, File

Government has spent P3 B for Dengvaxia
Ding Cervantes (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2017 - 4:00pm

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga  , Philippines  —  Since the Department of Health (DOH) has spent P3 billion of P3.5 billion for its controversial anti-dengue vaccination program, it now seeks to negotiate with French manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur for still unused doses of Dengvaxia vaccine.

In a press conference here yesterday, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said the DOH is considering its options on the unused doses, including returning them to Sanofi for a refund or asking Sanofi to defray the medical costs of 733,000 immunized school children in case they fall ill.

“The remaining P500 million is still with the DOH,” Lee Suy said, after admitting that the agency had already spent P3 billion of the budget.

The DOH suspended the program after Sanofi admitted that the vaccination could lead to “severe diseases” in children who never had a history of dengue infection.

Parents of vaccinated children in Mabalacat City said they would coordinate with prominent lawyer Ernesto Francisco who has urged the filing of a class suit against Sanofi and officials of the DOH involved in the anti-dengue vaccination program.

In this province, 700,000 Grade 4 children were given the initial dose of the vaccine, the DOH said. No immediate data are available on how many of them received the second and the final dose. There are also no data available on whether children who never had dengue are more at risk for having received all three doses.

Around 42,000 children were confirmed to have been administered all three doses since April last year.

“We still don’t know if three doses or just one would affect the children, but we are monitoring their situation,” said Health Department Undersecretary Elenita Gorgolon.

Sanofi representative physician Maria Leila Espinosa clarified during the press conference that the use of the term “severe” diseases has been misunderstood by the public.

“In clinical terms, severe dengue cases need not even be hospitalized. Home care would do,” she said.

Senate sets probe

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, chairman of the Senate committee on health, proposed yesterday the creation of a task force that would conduct a thorough, comprehensive and “all angle investigation” on the dengue vaccine controversy.

“I am recommending that the task force should be composed of representatives from the DOH, World Health Organization, Philippine Medical Association and medical societies, academe and noted medical and health experts,” he said in a statement.

Officials from the WHO will be arriving on Dec. 12 and 13. Ejercito said he wanted to hear what they had to say about the issue before he would conduct his investigation.

“I believe that the observation and analysis of the WHO officials plus the report and recommendation of the task force that I have proposed to be created will give me a wider grasp and understanding of the problem, which will help me a lot in my inquiry,” he said.

The senator earlier filed Senate Resolution 557 seeking an inquiry into the dengue immunization program of the DOH vis-à-vis Sanofi’s new clinical findings.

 The Senate Blue Ribbon committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, is scheduled to conduct its inquiry on Monday.

Ejercito said he may hold a joint inquiry with the Blue Ribbon panel “if it’s really necessary because I believe that a lot of substantial information will come out in that hearing” if the WHO officials and other experts are present.

“I still maintain that we need the findings and recommendation of the experts,” he said.

He added that he was puzzled and surprised why the Philippines approved and used Dengvaxia despite the fact that up to this day, the European Medicine Agency has not yet approved it.

“The DOH should also verify reports of deaths which are being connected by some to the Dengvaxia vaccine. What’s the real cause of the deaths?” Ejercito said.  –  With Paolo Romero

 

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