MANILA, Philippines – Former health secretary Enrique Ona placed the blame over the dengue vaccine controversy on the “leadership that took over” the Department of Health after he left in 2014.
“In the light of the Sanofi Pasteur advisory on the use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DOH [Department of Health] after I left in December 20, 2014 is solely responsible for all the decisions that has resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today,” Ona said in a statement released Saturday, December 9.
His successor at the helm of the DOH was Janette Garin, who is currently under the spotlight for green-lighting the anti-dengue vaccination program worth P3.5 billion, and targeted schoolchildren in 3 pilot regions.
The statement was in response to Garin’s alleging that talks regarding the now-controversial vaccine began during Ona’s time as the country’s chief health enforcer.
Ona, in the statement, said that during his term as DOH chief from June 2010 to December 2014, Sanofi Pasteur “almost annually” requested to brief him on the status of the clinical trials on a dengue vaccine they were developing.
He said that it was of “great interest” to him and that he had “high hopes” for the vaccine, but throughout his time at the DOH, Sanofi “never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use.”
The pharma company, Ona said, “only gave a vague projection to me of the time when it may be ready for launching.”
The former health chief recalled mentioning the “possible” vaccine to then President Benigno Aquino III, but they did not allocate any money for it in the 2016 budget since it was what Ona still considered as under its “developmental” stage.
Ona said he first heard of the DOH’s plan to purchase the dengue vaccine – which at the time was already given the name Dengvaxia – in 2016.
He said that the amount allocated for the vaccine was “an amount more than the entire budget for all other vaccines being procured by the DOH annually.”
Citing a 2015 study on the then-candidate dengue vaccine, Ona said that any expert on medicine or public health “would have made one wait for more follow up studies to further evaluate the safety and efficacy” of the medication.
The controversy surrounding the anti-dengue vaccine program broke out on December 1, after the DOH suspended the program following an advisory from Sanofi Pasteur that stated the drug could cause more severe dengue if it is administered to a person who had no prior dengue infection. (READ: Sanofi: Dengvaxia not guaranteed to prevent dengue)
Until the program’s suspension, 830,000 Filipino children, plus another 15,000 police and their dependents, and other civilians, were given doses of the vaccine. (TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
The DOH already confirmed that a 12-year-old child in Tarlac suffered severe dengue, despite being vaccinated.
DOH, under Garin, launched the program in April 2016 amid opposition from health experts who questioned its “rushed implementation.” (READ: Mass use of dengue vaccine had no backing of DOH medical experts)
Various groups and personalities have called for a probe into the matter. The Department of Justice on December 4 ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to start a case build-up on the issue.
Meanwhile both houses of Congress are set to open hearings on the controversy, starting Monday, December 11.
Current Health Secretary Francisco Duque has set up a DOH task force to probe the program, and has said that the government will also hold Sanofi Pasteur accountable over the vaccine fiasco.
Amid this, Malacañang said the public should not panic over the controversy.
The government has also ordered a recall of the vaccine from the market. – Rappler.com