MANILA, Philippines – A “prudent” reaction to an “alarming problem.”
Former budget secretary Florencio Abad on Monday, February 26, defended the Aquino administration’s now-controversial decision to procure over P3 billion for a mass dengue vaccination program, telling lawmakers they were cautious in making the eventual decision to eventually fund the program. (READ: Aquino says unqualified 'experts' politicized Dengvaxia probe)
The funds for the program, now the subject of Congressional probes, came from over P11 billion that were declared as savings by December 2015.
“Our actions were really guided by prudence. There was this alarming problem, there was this potential cure to it. We had to defer [to the Department of Health] because as far as we are concerned, they are the experts in this area,” said Abad, upon questioning by committee on health chairperson Quezon 4th District Representative Angelina Tan.
Tan, a doctor herself, questioned why the Aquino administration chose to fund a mass dengue vaccination program. If it were up to her, said Tan, she would have prioritized other programs, including those for other, better “proven” vaccines.
“You are making now a judgment on the basis of hindsight, which we did not have in our time. So I’d like to believe… there could have been adjustments in their approach if they had the information we have today,” said Abad.
He explained that when the 2015 budget was crafted, they could not give an allocation for the dengue vaccine since at that time, it had yet to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
When the Certificate of Public Registration (CPR) eventually came in late 2015, the Health Department, through then secretary Janette Garin, send a memorandum suggesting that the savings be used for the program. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
The mass vaccination program has been under renewed scrutiny after vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur announced in November 2017 that Dengvaxia posed a risk to persons who had yet to be infected with the virus prior to vaccination.
Former president Benigno Aquino III, speaking at the start of the hearing, said it was the spike in dengue cases at the beginning of his term that pushed them to find ways to stem the problem.
Both Aquino and Garin called on the public to listen to experts, particularly those from the Health Department, amid public fears over the safety of dengvaxia and vaccines in general.
Garin herself apparently put more weight on the opinion of medical societies over experts in the department in determining if the country should push through with the mass vaccination program.
The current administation, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has since put a stop to the program and have asked the French pharmaceutical for a refund of the money spent for the Dengvaxia vials. Sanofi agreed to give a refund for the unused vials but declined to refund those that were used. – Rappler.com