The government’s purchase of P3 billion worth of dengue vaccines from a French pharmaceutical company in 2016 has been found so far to be “above board” and met all legal requirements of the government’s procurement program, the head of the Department of Health (DOH) panel tasked to investigate the Dengvaxia issue said.
Aside from this, Dr. Herminigildo Valle, DOH Undersecretary for Field Implementation and Management, noted that “there is overwhelming data on the efficacy” of Dengvaxia in preventing dengue for the appropriate groups, specifically for Filipinos nine years old and above.
“Talagang nakakatulong siya compared sa mga hindi nabakunahan (It really helps prevent the disease compared to those who were not vaccinated),” Dr. Valle in an interview over radio station dzBB.
Valle heads the DOH panel created to investigate the Dengvaxia issue following the announcement of Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur that some part of the population that has not been infected with the dengue virus before faces the risk of severe dengue if they contract the disease after vaccination.
He said that while the purchase order for the dengue vaccine appeared to have been speedily concluded compared to other government transactions, Sanofi Pasteur and the previous administration of the DOH met all the requirements in government procurement.
“The process, yu’ng procurement nila (the procurement), is all within the legal bounds, pero mabilis talaga (but it was fast) compared to the usual procurement process,” Valle said.
Critics of the program have pointed to the allegedly hasty approval process for the formulary registration of the Dengvaxia vaccine and the purchase of the vaccine by the previous administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III as highly irregular given the normal procurement processes that take a long time in government agencies.
“Based on so many investigations, wala, there’s no gross infraction of the policies and procedures on either procurement or the implementation (of the vaccination program),” he added.
Valle admitted that the speedy procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccines looked “unusual” but could be considered to be an “excellent, efficient system” of procurement if done in the private sector.
The only question that could be posed particularly after the Sanofi Pasteur announcement last November that seronegative patients could be at risk of contracting severe dengue after vaccination, Valle said, was in the judgment to purchase the vaccine and implement a nationwide vaccination program.
Valle, however, but even this could be considered a non-factor because “judgment is a difficult thing” considering the factors considered by the previous government in the face of the severe increase in dengue cases among Filipinos and the scientific findings on the efficacy of Dengvaxia.
“Maraming anggulo ang imbestigasyon natin (Our investigation is looking at many angles),” Valle assured the public.
No link between Dengvaxia and fatalities.
Valle also pointed out that the panel has seen no proof that links Dengvaxia vaccination to reported cases of fatalities.
“As of now, yu’ng mga kaso na tinitingnan namin na kaso, yu’ng sa (among the cases of fatalities we are looking at like in) East Avenue, isa du’n (there’s one), yu’ng sa (in) Bataan dalawa (there’s two), at yu’ng ini-report ng Sanofi, so far there is no direct causality ang Dengvaxia, wala talagang (there is absolutely no) evidence that Dengvaxia is causing the death or demise ng ating pasyente (of our patients),” Valle said.
He assured the public that the DOH is continuing its intensified monitoring and surveillance operations to check all dengue cases, especially among the 830,000 public school students vaccinated with Dengvaxia since 2016. Valle also assured the DOH is ready to give assistance to dengue victims.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said he himself could find no wrongdoing in the decision by the former President and the DOH to implement a nationwide dengue vaccination program considering the dangers posed by the rising cases of dengue infection among Filipinos. He cited his own experience facing the fear of losing his own son Sebastian “Baste” Duterte when the latter contracted dengue and he fervently looked for a medical solution to the disease that hit his son.
Former Health Secretary Janet l. Garin, who is at the center of the controversy because she made the final recommendation to purchase the vaccine from Sanofi Pasteur and to implement a nationwide vaccination program covering students in public schools, has stressed that the French company had not yet given its warning issued in November this year on the risk of vaccinating seronegative patients with Dengvaxia.
Garin noted that the government and ordinary Filipinos spent an estimated P16 billion a year to treat dengue cases every year, and that the government at that time was spurred by calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) position paper that recommended conditional implementation of the dengue vaccination program for highly endemic areas.
In 2012, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan issued a position paper called the “Global Strategy for Dengue Prevention and Control” which called for an intensified global effort to combat dengue, as she noted that dengue cases number 50-100 million a year globally and that more than half of the world’s population lives in countries where dengue is endemic
Featured Image: Former Philippine Health Secretary Janette L. Garin