Congress seeks P1.16-B special budget for Dengvaxia recipients

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Leaders of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 21, filed a bill that would allot a special P1.16-billion fund for children who received the now-controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. 

The funds will come from the amount returned by manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur to the Philippine government through distributor Zuellig Pharma.  

The measure – filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and appropriations committee chairman Karlo Nograles – states that the fund must be used for medical support of children who got the vaccine. 

Medical support includes hospitalization, medical kits, and outpatient care services, including laboratory tests. The fund will also cover the deployment of nurse-health education promotion officers. 

This came after the budget and health departments asked that the refund be used to address the medical needs of vaccinated children. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno announced in a press conference that the DBM and the Department of Health (DOH) would be requesting Congress for some P1.16 billion in supplemental budget this year to provide assistance to children who received Dengvaxia, in anticipation of risks from the Sanofi-manufactured dengue vaccine. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students

Some 870,000 people, mostly schoolchildren, were vaccinated with Dengvaxia in 2016. The program has been the subject of congressional investigations for the rush in its approval and implementation – before experts had approved its commercial use. French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi released an update last November, saying its dengue vaccine presented higher risks for people who received it without prior infection. 

According to the DBM, the outpatient care package, worth P500 per vaccinee, will include a Complete Blood Count test, NS1 antigen test, urinalysis, medication, and other laboratory tests if needed.

Medical kits, worth P300 per vaccinee, will include a thermometer, a mosquito repellant, two bottles of multivitamins, and a package bag.

Diokno is confident that the supplemental budget will be approved.

"[This] is not a controversial request. Everybody will be in favor of this to address the problem," he said.

Congress will be on recess starting Thursday, March 22, and will resume sessions on May 14.

The refund by Sanofi, from which the supplemental budget would be taken from, was made to cover the amount of unused vaccines.

In December 2015, the Philippines became the first Asian country to approve the commercial sale of Dengvaxia, which is the world's first dengue vaccine.

However, the World Health Organization in 2016 did not recommend the use of the vaccine for children under 9 years of age. In November 2017, Sanofi issued a warning against its own vaccine, citing Dengvaxia could lead to "more cases of severe disease."

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III suspended the dengue vaccination program in December 2017 and said the DOH will closely monitor the health of all vaccinated children in the next 5 years.

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.