DOJ orders probe of dengue vaccine program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) — The Justice Department on Monday ordered the investigation into the dengue vaccine program that allegedly put at least 70,000 children at risk.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the ₱3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccination carried out by the government.

"Tama ba ang pag-order kaagad ng ganitong karaming vaccine na worth ₱3.5 billion na naturukan agad ang 733,000 children. Tama ba ito kahit na wala pang kahit na apat na buwan pa lang nama-manufacture ito tapos nagkaroon ng warning ang Sanofi sa ating government officials?" he said.

(Translation: Was it right to order ₱3.5 billion-worth of vaccine and inject 733,000 children with it? Was it right to procure the vaccines even if it has only been manufactured for four months? Was it the right move even if Sanofi already gave a warning to our government officials?)

Aguirre also questioned the move of the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III to spend billions to fund the immunization program. It has been fully paid by the government.

"Meron bang criminal liability dito? Meron bang graft and corruption aspect? 'Yan po ay hindi natin pangungunahan, maghihintay tayo sa report ng National Bureau of Investigation," he said.

[Translation: Is there criminal liability? Was there graft and corruption? We'll leave it to the NBI to find out.]

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said 733,713 children from Central Luzon, the region of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon, and Metro Manila were administered Dengvaxia. He said those at risk are some 70,000 children who were vaccinated with Sanofi Pasteur's Dengvaxia under a Health Department program since 2016.

Aguirre called on the parents of the children vaccinated with Dengvaxia to reach out to the NBI to help with the probe.

Sanofi Pasteur on Monday said for those who have not been previously infected by dengue and have been vaccinated with Dengvaxia, there is an increased risk of hospitalization when the person gets infected by dengue virus.

However, they added that all vaccine participants in the study who got severe dengue, whether they had been infected with dengue or not before the immunization, had fully recovered.

Former, current gov't officials ready to face probe

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin and current health officials said they are ready to face investigations.

"I welcome the investigation that will be conducted by the DOJ and senate. I will answer all questions at the right time and in the appropriate forum... In the event that there will be authorities who will point culpability to me, I am ready to face the consequences," Garin said in a statement on Monday.

She also said the dengue immunization program did not start when she was appointed Health Secretary by former President Aquino.

"The dengue vaccination program plan started even before my time. We implemented it in accordance with WHO guidance and recomendations," she said.

The Health Department, under Garin, launched Asia's first public dengue vaccine program in April 2016.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH Head of Emerging Infectious Disease Division, said they are also open to the NBI probe.

"The Department of Health is always open with that, nang sa gayon eh, kami rin naman ang gusto nating mangyari nang sa gayon maayos na rin ito, magkaroon na ng kalinawan," he said.

[Translation: The DOH is always open with that, so that we as well will have clarity on the issue.]

He said the DOH is also ready to face a class suit if the parents of the vaccinated children sue.

"We're ready for that. Kasi nga, sabi nga natin prerogative 'yan ng mga magulang, ng mga tao na gawan ng ganitong concern. At the DOH, ang intention is really to provide protection, Ang ganitong concern, we're ready. May mga dokumento naman kami na magpapatunay na ayos naman ang lahat," he said.

[Translation: We're ready for that. We said it's the prerogative of the parents, of people to raise the concern. For DOH, the intention is really to provide proteciton. So we're reayd. We have documents to prove our stand that everything's alright.]

House and Senate committees have conducted hearings to look into the contract to purchase Dengvaxia from Sanofi-Pasteur.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, launched an investigation in December 2016, questioning the haste in buying dengue vaccines towards the end of the Aquino administration.

"The investigation is still ongoing," he said on December 1.