(UPDATED — 3:02 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Politicians belonging to former President Benigno Aquino III’s Liberal Party (LP) on Tuesday urged the Duterte administration to insulate from politics its investigation into the procurement of P3.5-billion worth of an anti-dengue vaccine, which was later found to pose health risks among people who didn’t have any history of contracting the mosquito-borne disease but were injected with Dengvaxia.
LP lawmakers said that while they supported an investigation into the government’s failed dengue vaccine program, this should be “fair and impartial.”
“We support calls for investigation of this issue as thousands of children’s lives are at stake here. We must ensure that the investigation will not be selective and will cover all periods of implementation of the program,” said LP president, Sen. Francis Pangilinan in a statement.
On Monday, December 4, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II instructed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the “alleged danger to public health arising from the P3.5 billion antidengue vaccination drive” of the Department of Health (DOH).
Aguirre also directed the NBI to do “case buildup” and “if evidence so warrants…file appropriate charges” against those who would be proven liable for the mess.
The DOJ chief said the NBI must find out whether the government, during the Aquino administration, made the right decision in early 2016 to order P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia and had 733,000 children injected four months after the vaccine was manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
Pangilinan pointed out that the anti-dengue program was implemented by the DOH during the last year of the Aquino administration and continued by the Duterte administration, “upon the recommendation of the new DOH leadership.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino said that besides digging deep into the controversy, concerned government agencies must monitor the status of students who received the initial dose of the vaccine to ensure their health and wellness.
“Mas mahalagang mabantayan ang kalagayan ng mga estudyanteng tumanggap ng bakuna upang matiyak ang kanilang kaligtasan [It is more important to monitor the conditions of students who received vaccine shots to ensure their safety],” he said.
Sen. Franklin Drilon also said that “Sanofi, together with the government, has the duty to ensure the safety of those vaccinated.”
“As what the health experts say, dengue kills. And it is the responsibility of government to find a safe and effective solution to the disease,” said Drilon.
‘Immunize it from politics’
At the House, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman on Tuesday also appealed to all concerned parties to “immunize from politics” the discussions about Dengvaxia.
“The pros and cons on the vaccine are purely medical issues which must be addressed by a panel of impartial experts, not by amateurish legislators and partisan administrators,” he said in a statement.
Lagman added that, “The sooner the questions are resolved, the better for anxious parents who have been disconcerted by adverse propaganda and misleading hypes.”
For is part, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said the government should first “manage the crisis, if they think it exists,” instead of prioritizing looking for people to prosecute.
“Sa halip na bigyan ng solusyon itong isyu ng dengue vaccine, naghahanap ng kakasuhan at sisisihin [They are looking for someone to sue and blame, instead of giving solution to the dengue vaccine issue],” he said.
Erice said the government should find out if the vaccines given to the children have dangerous effects and carry out steps to ensure their safety.
He said health officials should also begin talking with Sanofi to find solutions to the matter.
“The government should get its acts together in disseminating information,” he said.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said clear pronouncements from officials would help avoid unnecessary panic.
“The government should calm the public by giving them factual information. Some people are panicking because they though the vaccine has a grave effect on them,” Alejano said.
Lagman said that in finding an explanation to the controversy, the following should be answered:
–Was Dengvaxia recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in the Philippines and other countries?
–Was the vaccine used globally by other countries ahead of the Philippines?
–Was it approved and certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
–Was force or coercion employed in the vaccination of schoolchildren?
–Were there fatalities as a result of 733,000 children immunized in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and CALABARZON?
–Were the bidding procedures strictly complied with?