Senate to open probe on dengue vaccine scare

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 8) — Both houses of Congress are set to tackle next week the Health Department's controversial P3.5-billion dengue vaccine program, which has since been suspended amid health risks.

The Senate on Blue Ribbon, Finance, and Health and Demography Committees will begin their inquiry on December 11, Monday. The committees are chaired by Senators Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, and JV Ejercito.

The House of Representatives Committee on Health also has a joint meeting with the Committee on Good Government set on December 13, Wednesday. The panels are chaired by Quezon City Rep. Angeline Tan and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Ty Pimentel respectively.

The probe comes after the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur reported on November 29 that its vaccine Dengvaxia could possibly cause "severe disease" in those who were vaccinated and had never contracted dengue before.

Vaccines were given to over 830,000 students, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque. An estimated eight to 10 percent of the students who were inoculated never had any prior history of dengue, health officials said.

The government on Friday demanded from Sanofi Pasteur a refund of the P3.5 billion it paid for the vaccines.

The national immunization program was introduced in April 2016, in the last two months of the term of former President Benigno Aquino III. He and former Health Secretary Janette Garin were pictured in a courtesy call with officials of Sanofi in France in December 2015.

When asked about the accountability of Aquino and Garin, Duque said it was up to them to clarify the vaccine program which was launched under their watch.

Garin has said she was open to facing an investigation on the issue, and face the consequences if she was found to be culpable.

Related: Former DOH Secretary ready to face probe on dengue vaccine

Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, who halted the program in 2016, told CNN Philippines she would attend the hearing.

A draft House Committee on Health report, dated January 2017, found 997 individuals who were immunized with Dengvaxia fell ill between March 18 to August 20 last year. About 30 cases required hospitalization.

Garin also maintained that the program followed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. While WHO did release guidelines on the use of Dengvaxia, it denied endorsing the product for use in national immunization programs.

Related: WHO denies recommending Dengvaxia for nat'l immunization programs

It was crucial for health officials to present the facts of the issue, said Senator Bam Aquino.

"Mahalaga talaga kasi pupunta ang DOH officials... para ipakita talaga sa atin ang mga datos at facts — ano ba talaga, paano ito nangyari, sino ang kailangang managot dito at ano ang mga steps na kailangang gawin para ang mga kabataan natin ay ligtas at hindi na mapeperhuwisyo ang pamilyang Pilipino," said Aquino, who is Vice Chairperson of the Finance Committee and a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee.

(Translation: What's important is DOH officials attend... to show us data and facts — what happened, how, who is accountable, and what are the steps needed to ensure our youth are safe and the Filipino family is not inconvenienced.)

The Department of Justice also ordered a probe on the vaccine program.

CNN Philippines researcher Ella Hermonio, multi-platform writer Regine Cabato, and senior digital producer Lara Tan contributed to this story.