Ex-health official: Garin conspired with Sanofi on Dengvaxia vaccine use

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — A former health undersecretary is accusing then health chief Janette Garin of conspiring with the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur to "hurriedly implement" the now-controversial dengue vaccination program.

"What is obvious is there is collusion between the Philippine government headed then by the secretary of health Garin and the manufacturer of the vaccine Sanofi Pasteur," Former Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa said on the sidelines of a forum on Saturday.

He belied Garin's claim on Friday that he and Garin's predecessor, former Health Secretary Enrique Ona, were aware of the government's plan to administer Dengvaxia through a school-based dengue immunization program in 2016.

"We never contemplated on using the dengue vaccine kasi experimental pa siya…Ibig sabihin nun hihintayin mo 'yung final result of the study. Pagkatapos nun, mahaba po ang proseso ng drug development," Herbosa said.

[Translation: "We never contemplated on using the dengue vaccine because it's experimental….This means you have to wait for the final result of the study. What follows is a long process of drug development."]

Over 40,000 volunteers participated in the Sanofi Pasteur dengue vaccine clinical study program in three phases in 15 countries in Asia, including the Philippines. A total of 29,000 volunteers received the vaccine. In 2014, Dengvaxia successfully completed phase III clinical studies to evaluate if the vaccine was effective.

Herbosa said he and other former health officials were surprised when Garin announced she was pushing through with the vaccination in January 2016.

It was abruptly implemented, Herbosa said. He said bidding was conducted March 9, 2016, vaccines were delivered March 18 and administered to students in April.

Herbosa also slammed Garin's meeting with Sanofi Pasteur officials in Paris in 2015, saying it is "highly inappropriate" for any government official to hold meetings with suppliers prior to a bidding.

The vaccines were overpriced at P3.5 billion, Herbosa said. The government had spent only P2.9 billion to immunize around two million students on nine diseases, he added.

CNN Philippines is trying to reach Garin and other former officials for comment.

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

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

She added the program was "implemented in accordance with WHO (World Health Organization) guidance and recommendations."

But the WHO said it never recommended the use of the controversial dengue vaccine in national immunization programs.

Read more: WHO denies recommending Dengvaxia for nat'l immunization programs

Dengvaxia mess

The Philippines implemented in 2016 the use of Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine. More than 800,000 children were vaccinated.

The Department of Health (DOH) temporarily halted its dengue vaccination program on December 1 after a clinical study by Sanofi Pasteur showed those not previously infected with dengue and got vaccinated with Dengvaxia could contract "severe disease."

Those at risk are some 80,000 children, the DOH said.

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

The DOH also formed a task force to monitor and investigate Dengvaxia and will have a legal team that will look into the accountability of Sanofi.

Both houses of Congress will begin an inquiry into Dengvaxia vaccine and the public vaccination program, which has alarmed lawmakers, health officials, and thousands of parents whose children received the vaccine.

Read: Senate to open probe on dengue vaccine scare