PCMC director grilled for P3-B dengue vaccine purchase

MANILA, Philippines – Julius Lecciones, executive director of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), was put on the hot seat for signing the procurement papers for P3 billion worth of Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.

Lecciones, during the Senate probe into the controversial dengue vaccination program on Monday, December 11, said that it was the PCMC, not the Department of Health (DOH), that bought the Dengvaxia doses.

Senate blue ribbon panel chairperson Richard Gordon asked Lecciones to make the confirmation after ex-DOH chief Janette Garin said it was the PCMC who oversaw the procurement.

Lecciones agreed, but he said he only did it upon the orders of Garin herself.

The program, launched by the DOH under Garin in 2016, is now embroiled in controversy, after pharmaceuticals company Sanofi Pasteur said its product could lead to a more severe case of dengue when administered on a person who had not been infected by the virus before. The program is currently suspended.

Gordon wondered why Lecciones agreed to buy the risky vaccine.

Pumayag ka na lang agad? Di ka nagtanong? (You just agreed? You didn’t even ask questions?)” the senator asked. (READ: Gordon says Dengvaxia approval 'too fast,' hints possible 'conspiracy')

Nagtanong ako kung saan mapupunta ‘yong P3 billion. Sabi doon nga po sa program ng anti-dengue,” was Lecciones’ reply.

(I asked where the P3 billion will go. I was told it would go to the anti-dengue program.)

Gordon then asked the PCMC head if he was aware that the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) only allowed a limited use of the dengue vaccine manufactured by French company Sanofi Pasteur.

The FEC is a panel of medical experts that determines drugs that may or may not be bought by the government. All drugs the government can buy are listed in the National Formulary. (READ: Mass use of dengue vaccine had no backing of DOH medical experts)

In certain cases, the FEC may issue a certificate of exemption from the National Formulary for a drug, meaning the government may only procure the said drug within the timeframe specified by the FEC.

The FEC issued a certificate for exemption for Dengvaxia, but only recommended a “phased” implementation and a “staged” procurement. Garin did not follow this by pushing through with the national vaccination program.

Lecciones said he “was not aware” of the FEC’s conditions for the certificate of exemption.

Gordon then told him, “In other words, you were reckless.”

Garin, however, believed there was no anomaly behind PCMC’s procurement of the vaccine. She said there was no hint of corruption among PCMC’s bids and awards committee members when they undertook the procurement process for Dengvaxia.

A total of P3.5 billion was allotted for the dengue vaccination program, launched during the time of ex-president Benigno Aquino and continued during President Rodrigo Duterte’s term until its suspension last December 1.

Of that budget, only P3 billion was used by the PCMC. Duque said the remaining P500 million remains in the DOH’s funds. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.