MANILA, Philippines – Senate blue ribbon panel chairperson Richard Gordon found the speed with which the Philippine government approved the commercial release of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine “too fast,” hinting that a “conspiracy” might be behind it.
This was Gordon’s line of questioning to ex-Department of Health (DOH) chief Janette Garin and French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur’s officials as the Senate reopened on Monday, December 11, its probe into the now-suspended school-based vaccination program.
The senator presented the timeline of how Sanofi’s Dengvaxia vaccine reached the Philippines – from Garin’s meeting to Sanofi’s factory in Lyons, France, in May 2015, to Sanofi executives’ courtesy call on then-President Benigno Aquino III in December 2015, to the vaccination program’s launch in April 2016.
Gordon pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration approved the dengue vaccine’s commercial release on December 22, 2015. (READ: Mass use of dengue vaccine had no backing of DOH medical experts)
Then just a week later, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) already released a special allotment release order (SARO) for the dengue vaccination program. P3.5 billion was allocated for it, sourced from sin tax funds.
“Gaano ba kabilis makakuha ng SARO? Gaano ba kabilis magkaroon ng budget sa DBM? Aba, eh magnonobena ka nang tatlong libo bago ka makakuha ng pera…. Pero dito, ang bilis ng paglabas ng pera,” said Gordon.
(How long does it take to get a SARO? How long dose it take to get a budget from the DBM? You know, you have to recite three thousand novenas before you can get money…. But here, the release of the cash was fast.)
The dengue vaccination program was launched under the Aquino administration by ex-DOH chief Janette Garin. The target was to vaccinate more than one million public school kids aged 9 and above in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.
Less than two years after the vaccination program’s launch, Sanofi issued an advisory, saying its vaccine could lead to “more severe” cases of dengue when administered on a person who had not been infected by the virus prior to immunization.
Current DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III already suspended the program, but 830,000 Filipino kids already got the risky vaccine, Another 32,000 Filipinos received it from private hospitals.
Conspiracy at work?
For Gordon, there seems to be a “conspiracy” to hasten the implementation of the vaccination program. (Read: #AnimatED: Somebody has to answer for the dengue vaccine disaster)
“Merong very, very strong signs na parang may conspiracy. Unang-una, wala sa GAA (General Appropriations Act) ’yong budget para sa dengue vaccine. Pangalawa, isiningit lang nila ’yan. Gumawa sila ng paraan para isingit,” he said.
(There are very, very strong signs of what seems to be a conspiracy. First, the budget for the dengue vaccine was not in the GAA. Secondly, they just inserted it. They found ways to insert it.)
“Is this needs-driven or supply-driven? Sa gobyerno, kapag nilalapitan ka, nililigawan ka, nagsu-supply ng gamot ’yan o ng isang gamit na hindi kailangan masyado ng gobyerno. Pagkatapos pa no’ng mga meeting lalong bumibilis ang proseso,” he said.
(Is this needs-driven or supply-driven? In government, when you are approached, it means the company is a supplier of medicine or material that the government doesn’t really need. After those meetings, the process became fast. )
Garin, however, reiterated that the vaccination program she launched was aboveboard. She once again raised the name of her predecessor Enrique Ona, whom she said had publicly announced the DOH eyeing the use of the dengue vaccine as early as July 2015.
She said there was also no malice in her meeting with Sanofi’s officials two years ago, as they had invited her to see their factory in Lyons. Garin also said she only discussed how much the vaccine’s price would be if it was sold in private clinics, not for government procurement.
According to Garin, the dengue immunization program was “not a midnight deal.”
“On the issue of the vaccine procurement, I categorically deny any wrongdoing. I am not involved in any corruption and I am willing to be investigated,” said Garin said in Filipino.
She explained it was the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) that had bought the Dengvaxia vaccines, not DOH. But she stands by the integrity of the hospital’s officials.
“Tama po, ’di DOH ang bumili ng bakuna. PCMC ang bumili ng bakuna. Sa personal ko po na pagkakaalam, walang bahid ng korapsyon ang miyembro ng bids and awards committee ng PCMC,” she added.
(That’s right, it wasn’t DOH that bought the vaccines. PCMC did. In my personal knowledge, there was no hint of corruption among the members of the bids and awards committee of the PCMC.)
In a previous radio interview, PCMC executive director Julius Lecciones admitted he did sign the procurement papers for the dengue vaccine, but he only did it upon Garin’s orders. – Rappler.com