LIVE: House reopens probe into Dengvaxia controversy

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 20, resumes its probe into the purchase of P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccine for public school students in the country.

Nine months since House started its investigation into the issue, lawmakers have yet to come up with a committee report. It has been nearly a year since  Sanofi Pasteur admitted that Dengvaxia is not guaranteed to prevent infection with the dengue virus.

Camiguin Representative Xavier Romualdo, chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, decided to call for two more joint hearings with the House committee on health, saying questions surrounding the vaccine’s purchase and implementation of the school-based immunization program remained “unanswered.”

In the Senate, blue ribbon committee chair Richard Gordon filed his report in April, which suggested that former president Benigno Aquino III, former budget secretary Florencio Abad, and former health secretary Janette Garin should be held criminally liable for the dengue vaccine controversy.

What’s expected in the hearing? In an interview with DZBB, Romualdo said he wanted to find out why the dengue vaccines were purchased  and used without the complete backing of medical experts tasked to review its safety, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness.

Romualdo also said he would ask how the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) issued a certificate of exemption. The FEC is a panel of medical experts that determines which drugs may or may not be purchased by the government.

Romualdo said the House investigation begin with testimonies of lower-ranked Department of Health (DOH) officials involved in the dengue controversy, and then  work his way up the chain of officials. He did not rule out inviting Aquino or his former Cabinet officials to the hearings.

What’s happened since? Months after investigations into the the issue, the DOH has focused its efforts on monitoring over 830,000 Filipino children who got the dengue vaccine. (READ: Duque: 'Not appropriate' to declare emergency health crisis for students who got Dengvaxia)

Latest findings from the DOH showed that 19 out of 54 children who died after receiving at least one dose of Dengvaxia, had dengue despite the vaccination. However, DOH Undersecretary Enrique Domingo said further rigorous studies and trials over the next few years will be needed to establish a relationship between the incidents and the vaccine. (READ: Experts warn vs wild claims linked to Dengvaxia)

President Rodrigo Duterte is also yet to form the 3-man panel of Asian experts to study whether the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine is deadly. 

Meanwhile, public health programs continued to take suffer, as parents remain unwilling to have their children immunized in the DOH’s various vaccination programs.

Watch the hearing here at 1 pm, Tuesday. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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