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‘Garin could have acted in good faith’

FORMER Health secretary Janet Loreto Garin could have acted in “good faith” when she implemented a P3.5-billion anti-dengue inoculation program for more than 700,000 school-aged children, President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday. 

While Duterte refrained from condemning those responsible for the procurement of the disputed program, he was giving the benefit of the doubt for Congress or even an  independent body to probe the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.

“If you really think in good faith that you are doing the right thing, nobody but nobody can question you except your conscience,” 

Duterte said in a chance interview at Fort Bonifacio.

Duterte also believes Sanofi Pasteur, the French manufacturer of the vaccine in question, would not “destroy a billion dollar business just for one lousy failure.”

“If there is a failure, let them sort it out. An independent investigation or Congress would do it.”

In related developpments:

• Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday denounced Sanofi Pasteur for trying to “water down” the impact of its advisory on the health risks using the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Duque noted during the hearing of the House Committees on Good Government and Public Accountability and Health that Sanofi, in the first advisory on Nov. 29, said risks of severe dengue were observed in people who had not been previously infected by the dengue virus, Duque noted.

• The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines demanded the prosecution and punishment of government officials responsible for the Dengvaxia an anti-dengue vaccine but discovered later to increase the risk of severe dengue in people who have not contracted dengue prior to immunization.

More than 700,000 children, however, have already received a dose of the vaccine since last year.

Catholic Bishop Ruperto Santos, chairman of CBCP- Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People, said with more questions being raised in the ongoing Senate investigation,  it was becoming critical who would be determined and liable for the anomaly.

“We urgently and strongly call for full investigation of this serious matter, prosecution and punishment of previous highest government officials,” Santos said.

“Negligence and irresponsible actions of these officials have endangered the lives of more than 700,000 children,” the prelate said.

“Life is not an experiment. Life is not trial and error. And life is erroneously lost, wasted by careless and irresponsible decisions of those government officials,” he said.

• In the House, a senior legislator disclosed the Aquino administration took only six months to purchase the anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine, making it the “fastest procurement” in the Department of Health  history. 

“This is the fastest procurement in DoH history,” Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon said during a congressional hearing attended by health officials and executives of Sanofi Pasteur Inc.

“If it was indeed very important, then why did you not include that in the GAA?” Leachon said.  “Please, we ask you do not do this, and please not at the expense of more than 800,000 of our children!” he added.

Leachon said while the Aquino administration had a hard time dealing with the traffic problem, it managed to purchase what turned out to be a “political decision of the higher committee.” 

• In the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday urged colleagues investigating the dengue vaccine to look into the possible loopholes in the mandate of the Food and Drug Administration to provide more teeth in the existing laws as to its functions. 

 As a regulatory agency tasked to ensure the safety and efficacy of health products, there appears to be gray area in its issuance of certification, Sotto said, citing the case of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.

 “Just because it’s FDA-certified, it doesn’t mean that it should be made readily available to the public. The FDA should clearly specify if the product is yet to be proven effective or not or better yet is already backed up by studies on its efficacy, including adverse effects,” he said. 

As to its officials, holding them accountable like in the case of the Dengvaxia vaccine would not suffice, it seems, Sotto said

 “There must be a mechanism that will somehow shield them from being ‘corrupted’ by giant pharmaceutical companies. People’s lives are at stake here. It’s always better to err on the side of caution,” he said. 

 --French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur Inc. has assured lawmakers and the public its Dengvaxia vaccine is “a safe and effective” one as its continued use is most beneficial to a country like the Philippines that has a high incidence of the dengue disease.

At a congressional hearing by the House of Representatives’ committees on good government and public accountability, and on committee on health, Thomas Triomphe, the head of Asia-Pacific Sanofi Pasteur, affirmed that its Dengvaxia vaccine “offers, and has clearly been shown to offer, persistent protection against Dengue infection.”

He said this was “undeniably beneficial to the Philippines, a country with one of the highest Dengue endemicity in the world with about 150,000 to 200,000 reported cases of Dengue every year—and these are just the reported cases.”

The joint panel was seeking a probe into the DoH’s immunization program that used Dengvaxia vaccine.  Dengvaxia was introduced to the Philippines in April 2016.  

Duterte also defended his former Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, who claimed she was forced to continue to implement the program for fear that she might go to jail. 

“Look, if I were the President and there’s a…  vaccine that was already paid for and the studies show the clinical studies of that company, I as president, would [say] ‘You implement it if it would save lives.’”

“If there is anything that can save the lives of anyone of them or any Filipino for that matter, considering my position, I will order the implementation,” he added. 

The only difference now, Duterte said, was if there was a study or a counter-statement to the efficacy and the danger of the drugs.

“I am not prepared to pass judgment. I can only inquire and hope that everything will give us the truth because anything here in this planet requires truth,” he said. 

Topics: Janet Loreto Garin , DOH
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