P3.5 billion vaccine buy dubious says Vacc

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AN ANTI-crime advocacy group on Saturday said it would ask the Department of Justice to order the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the P3.5-billion purchase of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, days after its manufacturer raised potential health concerns.


This developed as the Department of Education vowed to monitor some 500,000 schoolchildren who received the  dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, after its manufacturer admitted it posed risks to certain recipients.  

Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption founding chairman Dante Jimenez said they would formally make the request on Monday.

“This is even worse than any heinous crimes,” Jimenez told a news briefing in Quezon City.

In a statement, the Education Department said: “As the health and safety of our learners are of principal importance, the Department, in close coordination with the Department of Health [DoH], will monitor the condition of learners who have been administered with the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.” 

“As a stakeholder, DepEd will likewise be actively participating in the review and consultations of DoH on the dengue vaccination program,” it added. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Saturday said the warning of the potential risk of the dengue vaccine “Dengvaxia” given to people who have not had dengue virus infection prior to receiving the shots should not diminish  public confidence in the government’s overall immunization program.

Government’s vaccination efforts, he said, have saved countless children’s lives from vaccine-preventable diseases over the decades.

He also assured parents worrying over their children’s health that the government would be “transparent” with its findings on the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, one day after he suspended the DoH’s dengue vaccination program pending recommendation on further action from the World Health Organization.

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The manufacturer of the world’s first dengue vaccine admitted the drug might be harmful when administered to individuals not previously infected with dengue. 

In January 2016, then Health secretary Dr. Janette Garin said the DoH was spending a total of P3.5 billion for the vaccination program for public school students in areas with high incidence of the potentially fatal disease. 

The initial beneficiaries of the free dengue vaccine were nine-year-old children enrolled in government schools at the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.

Garin said DoH bought the Food and Drug Administration-licensed Dengvaxia, at P1,000 per dose. This amount included syringes, vaccine carriers, surveillance and monitoring, and implementation costs.

Three doses were procured for one million children, each successive dose to be given every six months. The school-based dengue immunization was launched in April last year.

This announcement followed an advisory from French-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur saying new clinical analysis had found the vaccine was effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization, but citing a risk of a “severe” case of dengue for people who have not.

This makes around 10 percent of the more than 700,000 school children who received the shots in 2016 at risk from a “severe” case of the disease, said Duque.

Allaying fears from worried parents, Duque said the vaccine would in any case provide a 30-month protection period against dengue and assured the public that the DoH was on top of the situation.

The VACC will also be seeking compensation for the families whose children may have received potentially risky anti-dengue shots, said Jimenez, adding they will be setting up desks to receive complaints from concerned parents.

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Jimenez cited news reports as sources of the grounds for the planned request, which he said would demand accountability from officials responsible for the immunization program.

There is an ongoing Senate blue ribbon committee investigation, in aid of legislation, into the government’s P3.5-billion purchase of Dengvaxia, the world’s first dengue vaccine, during the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III.

The probe is led by Senator Richard Gordon, who said the purchase and the vaccine’s subsequent testing on around a million Filipino schoolchildren might have been made in “haste.”

The committee has not produced a report yet.

The DoH said on Friday that it would cooperate should the probe resume.

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