FORMER Department of Health undersecretary Susan Pineda-Mercado yesterday branded a “scam” the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia deal executed under the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III and former Health secretary Janette Garin.
Interviewed over Channel 7’s “Unang Hirit,” Mercado said the actual administration of the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia was irregular since it did not go through the required government processes.
She said the DoH’s Formulatory Executive Council did not give the go-signal for the government’s purchase of P3.5 billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccine and rejected its use on a mass scale.
“Among the recommendations of the Formulary Executive Council was to administer the vaccine in small populations only,” she said
She staid the FEC turned down the request of Garin for “exceptional approval for one year only” of the Dengvaxia vaccination program.
When the council approved the purchase of Dengvaxia from Sanofi Pasteur Philippines. it recommended that it be done in a stages.
Sanofi had denied that Dengvaxia, which was approved for sale by the Food and Drug Administration, is a deadly vaccine.
The former health official also clarified that “license to sell is different from the approval for the government to buy it.”
She said that Garin announced in January 2016 that Aquino had approved the administration of the vaccine to public schoolchildren from nine to 10 years old in three regions, including Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon.
She also revealed that the immunization program was launched without the schoolchildren’s parents and health workers being given the proper information on Dengvaxia.
“I hope it was not intentional, there was not enough information. Mothers agreed to have their children vaccinated because they knew it was a protection against dengue. But the truth is that Dengvaxia vaccine is not bad. However, you have to use it properly. You have to use this on children who [already] had dengue,” related Mercado.
The goal of the program, which was launched in April 2016, was to administer the dengue vaccine to a total of 1,077,623 children.
The DOH said more than 733,000 public schoolchildren had been vaccinated since the immunization program was launched, and more than 200,000 children have been given three shots.
The World Health Organization had said that it did not recommend the use of Dengvaxia.
But after more than a year after the dengue immunization program, Sanofi came out with an advisory last week that the vaccine should not be given to those who have not had dengue before.
In her Facebook account, Mercado said that at least 200 parents have provided her names and some photos of their dengue-free children who have been vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
She promised the parents that the list that she has will be submitted to congressional bodies that will investigate the dengue vaccine anomaly.
“I am now analyzing this data and am thankful for those who gave birthdates and locations so I can figure out if age and location is a factor in some of the reactions,” she said.
Senator JV Ejercito on Wednesday proposed the creation of a task force that will conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation on the controversial dengue vaccine after it was found that it causes “severe” health risks to children without prior infection of the virus.
Ejercito said he is recommending that the task force be composed of representatives from the DOH, WHO, Philippine Medical Association and medical societies, academe, and noted medical and health experts.
The senator, chair of the health committee, has filed Senate Resolution 557 directing the proper committee to conduct an inquiry into the dengue immunization program of the DOH vis-à-vis the Sanofi Pasteur’s new clinical finding on the vaccine Dengvaxia’s adverse effects.
He said officials from the WHO will be arriving in the country on Dec. 12 and 13.
“I want to hear what they have to say about the issue before I conduct my investigation,” said Ejercito.
“I believe that the observation and analysis of the WHO officials plus the report and recommendation of the task force that I have proposed to be created will give me a wider grasp and understanding of the problem which will help me a lot in my inquiry,” he said.
Ejercito said he may still join the Blue Ribbon committee of Senator Richard Gordon in the investigation on Monday if it’s really necessary.
He believes that a lot of substantial information will come out in Blue Ribbon hearing and they need the findings and recommendation of the experts.
“I am puzzled and surprised why the Philippines approved and used the Dengvaxia despite the fact that up to this day, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is the equivalent to our Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), has not yet approved it. I suggest the task force should find out the scientific merit of the vaccine,” he said.