‘No one objected to Dengvaxia roll-out, I approved it because of rising dengue incidence’ – Aquino

Former President Benigno Aquino III delivers his opening statement at the Senate hearing into the dengue vaccination program. (photo by Mae Anne Los Baños, News5)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2 – 12:03 p.m.) At no time before, during and after the roll-out of the P3.5-billion dengue vaccination program did he hear anyone object to the introduction of Sanofi Pasteur’s Dengvaxia to over 800,000 Filipino children — a program he approved to protect his constituents as incidents of the disease kept spiking, former President Benigno Aquino III told the Senate on Thursday.

Appearing at the third hearing of the joint inquiry by the blue ribbon and health committees into the controversial vaccine program, Aquino noted that the Philippines was not the first country to approve a mass immunization program to fight the occasionally fatal, mosquito-borne infection.

Mexico and Brazil preceded it, he said.

Kung ‘di lumabas itong sinabi ng Sanofi, at nagdesisyon akong hayaan na lang na magdusa pa ang mga ‘Boss’ ko, gayong may bakuna na, palagay ko ngayon, iba ang tanong niyo at asunto sakin: Bakit mo pinabayaan ang Pilipino? Paano ko ipapaliwanag sa mga nanay ang pagkamatay ng kanilang mga anak (If this Sanofi controversy did not arise and I simply let my constituents continue to suffer, I guess your accusation against me today would be: ‘Why did you neglect the Filipinos? How would I explain to mothers the deaths of their children)?” Aquino said in his opening statement.

He began his remarks by citing data given him as early as Augus 2010 by then Health Secretary Enrique Ona showing the continuing rise and spread of dengue in the country, and reporting that the mosquito-borne disease was no longer seasonal and all four strains were already in the country.

It was also Ona who informed him that a vaccine that would provide immunity for all four strains was being developed.

He said the government was stumped by the 14-fold rise in cases in Region 8, where populations are widely dispersed and are not in congested urban sites. “We asked: If in places that are not dense and highly urbanized there is a 1409.5% increase (in the incidence), what more with the really dense and urbanized areas?” he said in a bid to highlight the sense of alarm in his administration.

Aquino said when he went ot Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015, he talked to a number of executives from different companies, including Sanofi Pasteur.

It was then he was told that the vaccine against dengue was ready.

Aquino said it was his understanding that all the “local and international processes” to test the drug’s safety and efficacy had been done.

Diin ko lang po: Bago nagdesisyon ang gobyerno sa Dengvaxia, habang nagdesisyon, pagkatapos magdesisyon at hanggang sa ngayon, walang naparating sa akin ng pagtutol sa bakuna (I want to stress: Before the government decided on Dengvaxia, before and after the decision was made and until now, no information reached me about anyone objecting to the vaccine).”

Apparently responding to allegations in some quarters that the first three sites for the vaccine roll-out were chosen because they were vote-rich areas and the immunization was done weeks before the May 9, 2016 elections, Aquino explained: “Kaya natin inilunsad ito sa NCR, Calabarzon at Central Luzon, dahil ayon sa datos ng DOH, ito po ang tatlong pinaka-apektadong mga rehiyon nung 2015 kaugnay ng dengue (We launched it in the NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon because according to DOH data, these three were among the most affected regions in 2015).”

Aquino also touted his administration’s efforts to combat the disease, such as stopping indiscriminate fogging, activating a dengue express lane in government hospitals, and installing insecticide-treated screens and mosquito larvicidal traps. The National Dengue Prevention and Control Program had clear results, he said: from 1,057 deaths in 2010, the number dropped to 317 as of October 2015.

On arriving at the Senate earlier in the morning, Aquino explained his attendance at the hearing, telling reporters: “I think with the announcement by Sanofi and the reactions to it, there has been a lot of tension building up, and I feel it is incumbent upon me as a citizen to try to allay certain fear, putting these in the proper perspective.”

Blue Ribbon committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon thanked Aquino for showing up and assured that “for the record, there’s no attempt for any vindictive investigation …” (with reports from Mon Gualvez and Mae Anne Los Baños, News5)