Ejercito to propose creation of task force for Dengvaxia issue

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(File photo) Sen. JV Ejercito

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — Senator JV Ejercito on Friday said he seeks the creation of a task force that will oversee the issue on controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

"I'm proposing to create a task force for the next five years because we cannot take chances. Probably the effects would show in three to five years," Ejercito told CNN Philippines' News Night.

Ejercito, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said health department officials, World Health Organization (WHO) experts, medical academics and other medical associations will comprise the task force.

He added he will look into including an allotment for the monitoring of children vaccinated with Dengvaxia in the 2019 national budget.

The move comes after French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur reported on November 29 that its vaccine Dengvaxia could possibly cause "severe disease" in those who were vaccinated and have never had dengue.

Read: Drug firm warns of 'severe disease' from dengue vaccine for people with no prior infection

The Department of Health (DOH) has since suspended its dengue vaccine program, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stopped Dengvaxia's sale and distribution.

Ejercito said they hope former Health Secretaries Janette Garin and Paulyn Ubial could shed light on the procurement process and implementation of the immunization program.

He added they will look into the possibility of the purchase being a "midnight deal," as the whole process seemed rushed.

"There are information we have received that it might have been done in haste, because it was approved on December 22, 2015, and the SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) was already issued on December 28, prior to the 2016 elections…I think the crucial thing in this probe will be the timelines…the unprecedented speed by which the FDA approved Dengvaxia," Ejercito said.

He added he will meet with WHO officials on December 12 to discuss how Dengvaxia was administered in other countries, and how to move forward after the issue.

The Senate Blue Ribbon, Finance, and Health and Demography Committees will tackle on December 11 the controversial ₱3.5-billion dengue vaccination program.

Read: Senate to open probe on dengue vaccine scare

The House Committee on Health will also have a joint meeting with the Committee on Good Government over the issue on December 13, Wednesday.

Ejercito also appealed to everyone not to incite unnecessary panic by spreading inaccurate information.

"I'm appealing to everybody, especially those who are not in authority, let us let the medical experts speak on the issue, because it is causing further panic," he said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque earlier said vaccines were given to over 830,000 students, of which an estimated eight to 10 percent never had any prior history of dengue.

The government on Friday demanded from Sanofi Pasteur a refund of the money it paid for the vaccines.

Read: DOH to demand from Sanofi full refund of P3.5 billion spent on Dengvaxia

The national immunization program was introduced in April 2016, in the last two months of the term of former President Benigno Aquino III.

Aquino and Garin were pictured in a courtesy call with officials of Sanofi in France in December 2015.