Health Secretary urges ex-President Aquino, ex-DOH Sec. Garin to explain Dengvaxia procurement

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Former Health Secretary Janet Garin and former President Benigno Aquino III

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 8) — Former President Benigno Aquino III and officials in the past administration are urged to come forward and shed light on the P3.5-billion purchase of the anti-dengue vaccine, the Health Department said.

This was Health Secretary Francisco Duque's reply, when asked in a media briefing at the Palace if Aquino and former Health Secretary Janette Garin could be included in a lawsuit over the now-controversial Dengvaxia.

The purchase of the vaccine that was manufactured by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, and the decision to administer it under a public vaccination program was done in 2016, during the Aquino administration.

"It is 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," Duque said.

"To prevent that from snowballing, it might be good na sabihin na lang ano ba talaga," he added, referring to speculation surrounding the vaccine program.

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

The Philippine Star on Friday showed a photo of Aquino and Garin in a meeting with top officials of Sanofi Pasteur in Paris, France in December 2015.

"It would be good for everyone to come forward to say his or her piece to explain, otherwise, there will be too many speculations and sometimes innuendos," Duque said.

More than 830,000 children were vaccinated under a government program launched in 2016. Sanofi Pasteur on November 29 released a new study, saying 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.

Duque believes Aquino and Garin had the best interest of the Filipinos when they sealed the billion-peso deal with Sanofi Pasteur.

"I'm sure they actually meant well, I have no doubt they did mean well… The president and the department head were guided based on the feedback from the documentary evidence that the WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines were in fact followed," he said.

The procurement of the P3.5 billion-worth of Dengvaxia vaccine was the subject of a Senate inquiry back in December 2016.

The Justice Department on December 4 ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the anti-dengue vaccination carried out by Garin under the Aquino administration and former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial under the Duterte administration.

Related: DOJ orders NBI to probe Dengvaxia issue

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aquirre II also questioned the move of the Aquino administration to spend billions to fund the immunization program.

"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.

Aside from the NBI probe, the Senate and House are set to investigate the Dengvaxia controversy on December 11 and 13, respectively.

Related: Senate to open probe on dengue vaccine scare

Duque did not say whether Aquino and Garin should be held accountable for the Dengvaxia issue.

"We'll have to await as the investigation progresses," he said.

The Coalition for People's Right to Health co-convenor Dr. Eleanor A. Jara pointed out the Aquino government's "overzealousness" in closing the deal with Sanofi.

"We cannot blame the people if they raise suspicions on the possibility of some national officials profiteering from the transaction," she said in a statement.

The group called on government officials and Sanofi to be held accountable for the program's shortcomings.

"Complete accountability must be pursued on Sanofi and all current and former government officials  who connived in the planning and implementation of this program," it said in a statement.