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Sanofi started it all—PAO

Dengvaxia victims’ kin want French firm sued

THE Public Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur had the biggest culpability over the Dengvaxia mess as it moved to provide legal assistance to the families of two girls, both aged 10, who died after receiving the anti-dengue vaccine.

“There are many betrayers who keep on passing the blame on others. In my own opinion, Sanofi is liable. They started the problem,” she said.

She blamed the vaccine manufacturer for failing to include warnings on the packaging that children who never had dengue must not be inoculated with Dengvaxia.

“A prudent pharmacological company should have put the warnings on the label or box,” she said, addressing Sanofi directly. “It is obvious you must be charged.”

“You have the biggest responsibility. Without you, this mess could not have happened,” she added. “Sanofi, you better shut up.”

She said they want to build a strong case against those involved in the P3.5-billion procurement of Dengvaxia.

“We want an airtight case against them. There are those who could be implicated because of command responsibility. We are closely looking into that. There is this principle of good faith. What is important is the presentation of evidence. We do not want to file a case or cases that would later be dismissed,” she said.

CONTINUING CONTROVERSY. Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta (middle), with Dante Jimenez, chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, holds photos of alleged victims of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia with other officials during a news conference Tuesday on the controversial P3.5-billion vaccine at the Max’s Restaurant in Manila. Lino Santos

On Tuesday, the parents of two schoolchildren who died after being given the Dengvaxia vaccine asked the Justice Department to help them get justice for the death of their children.

Accompanied by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the PAO, the parents of Christine Mae de Guzman and Anjielica Pestilos, both aged 10, narrated how they died months after being injected with the vaccine.

De Guzman’s father Nelson submitted a sworn statement that would be used in pursuing cases against those behind the P3.5-billion immunization program.

He said Christine Mae received Dengvaxia vaccine on April 16, 2016 through a school vaccination project at Sisiman Elementary School in Mariveles, Bataan.

“While we were being asked for information, we were told that we should be thankful to the government because the anti-dengue vaccine is free. If we will get it from private hospitals, it would cost around P4,500 to P5,000,” his sworn statement said.

After six months or on Oct. 11, 2016, Christine Mae complained of headache and had a high fever. After two days, she was taken to the Mariveles Health Service Cooperative Hospital where she was diagnosed with severe dengue. She died Oct. 15, 2016. She was to have turned 12 on Tuesday.

Ramil and Liza Pestilos said their daughter Anjielica died Dec. 15, three months after receiving the vaccine through a school vaccination program in Septermber.

While her death certificate indicated that she died of systemic lupus erythematosus or an auto immune disease, PAO forensic expert Erwin Erfe said he believed that it was also a case of death by severe dengue.

“When we reviewed her clinical abstract, there is a manifestation that Anjelica died of severe hemorrhagic dengue,” Erfe said, citing symptoms of the disease like edema, rashes, bleeding and low platelet count.

Neither of the girls had had dengue before immunization.

“In both cases, the victims never suffered previous dengue exposure before, were both vaccinated with Dengvaxia, and have died from severe dengue,” Erfe said.

Acosta said they would provide legal assistance to the two families as the agency plans to gather similar cases and file a class suit against those liable for the vaccine’s release.

VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez, for his part, said they would also file string of criminal cases against officials of the previous administration.

Earlier, the Justice Department ordered the PAO to provide legal assistance to families of children who died after being injected with Dengvaxia through the government’s public immunization program.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II authorized the PAO to represent possible victims of Dengvaxia-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.

Acosta said she has tapped a team of PAO lawyers to gather statements and documentary evidence from parents and guardians of children who developed severe dengue after getting the Dengvaxia vaccine.

In a press conference, Acosta also revealed that several parents from Bataan and Quezon City as well as Cordillera Autonomous Region and Region 7 have already reached out to her office.

Although she would not say which officials from the previous administration might face charges, she said “command responsibility… cannot be erased by good faith.”

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio of the VACC, however, had a more definitive response to the question.

“We believe that there is a case for plunder here,” he said, citing evidence that came up in the Senate inquiry.

“We’re building cases also and we’re planning to file a class suit and civil action,” Topacio said.

The DoJ earlier ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the controversial P3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the Department of Health that reportedly poses risks to children without a history of the disease.

Aguirre II tapped the NBI to conduct a fact-finding probe to determine possible liabilities of officials behind the project that was approved by former Health secretary Janette Garin during the previous administration.

The controversy on Dengvaxia broke following the advisory from French-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur saying new clinical analysis has found the vaccine is effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization, but cited a risk of a “severe” case of dengue for people who have not.

This development puts around 10 percent of the over 700,000 school children who received the shots at risk of a “severe” case of the disease, prompting DoH Secretary Francisco Duque III to order the suspension of the dengue vaccination program.

Acosta and Topacio called on the NBI to expedite its investigation to prevent reported efforts to cover up the case.

“We’ve been informed by an insider that they are already shredding the documents in the DoH. So I urge Secretary Aguirre to order the NBI to now raid DoH and seize the documents in the DoH,” Topacio said.

“We call on the NBI to act now,” Acosta pleaded.

Also on Tuesday, the chairman of the House committee on appropriations said Congress has not set aside funding for the purchase of dengue vaccines in 2018.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, the panel chairman, said that a special provision under the Department of Health under the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA)--which provides that more than P15 billion has been appropriated for the procurement of drugs, medicines, vaccines, including medical and dental supplies--does not include dengue vaccines. With Maricel V. Cruz

Topics: sanofi , dengue , vaccine , DOH
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