Aquino says no one advised him vs using Dengvaxia in PH

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Former president Benigno Aquino III said no one had raised concerns about the potential risks of the Dengvaxia vaccine to him when his administration was planning to use it for the national dengue immunization program.

In his opening statement, Aquino said he was informed by his executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr in 2015 that all serotypes of dengue were already in the Philippines. He was also told the virus is no longer just seasonal and there was no treatment for it.

"Diin ko lang po: Bago nagdesisyon ang gobyerno sa Dengvaxia, habang nagdedesisyon, pagkatapos magdesisyon, at hanggang sa ngayon, walang nagparating sa akin ng pagtutol sa bakuna (Let me emphasize: Before, during, after the government decided on Dengvaxia and even up to now, no one approached me to oppose the use of the vaccine)," said Aquino on Thursday, December 14.

"Kaya natin inilunsad ito sa NCR (National Capital Region), Calabarzon, at Central Luzon, dahil ayon sa datos ng DOH (Department of Health), ito po ang 3 pinakaapektadong mga rehiyong no'ng 2015 kaugnay ng dengue (That's why we launched it in NCR, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon, because according to DOH data, these 3 regions were the ones most affected by dengue in 2015)," he added.

Aquino was testifying at the joint Senate committee investigation into the controversial dengue vaccination program, which made use of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur's Dengvaxia.

It was under his administration when then-DOH chief Janette Garin launched the program in the said 3 regions in April 2016, despite public health experts warning that the implementation was "too" rushed.

Less than two years later, Sanofi released an advisory saying its own vaccine could lead to a more severe case of dengue when administered to a person who has not been infected by the virus before immunization.

Current DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III already suspended the program, but not before more than 830,000 public school students got the risky vaccine.

According to Aquino, he approved the implementation of the dengue vaccination program because he was told the necessary local and international studies on it had been completed.

"Ang intindi natin sa Dengvaxia, natapos na ang local at international processes nito. Tinignan namin ang US FDA (Food and Drug Administration); may 5 steps ito (We were made to understand that local and international processes for Dengvaxia were completed. We looked at the US FDA; it has 5 steps): Discovery and development, pre-clinical research, clinical research, FDA review, [and] post-market safety monitoring," said Aquino.

"Paliwanag sa akin, dumaan ang Dengvaxia sa isa sa mga phases ng US FDA. Diin ko na lang din po: Hindi lang Pilipinas ang nag-apruba sa Dengvaxia. Nauna sa atin ang Mexico at Brazil," he added.

(They explained to me that Dengvaxia went through one of the US FDA's phases. Let me emphasize: Philippines is not the only country that approved Dengvaxia. Mexico and Brazil approved it first.)

But the former president failed to mention that the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) – the panel of top Filiipino doctors, lawyers, and economists tasked to identify which drugs the government can use and buy – never recommended the mass use of Dengvaxia.

The FEC merely recommended "localized" implementation and "staged" procurement, because studies at the time had not proven Dengvaxia was completely safe to use, effective to combat dengue, and cost-effective for the government.

Aquino also confirmed that he had met with Sanofi executives on December 1, 2015 when he went to Paris, France for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. He said he was only told Sanofi's dengue vaccine was ready for use.

The hearing is ongoing as of posting time. – 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.

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