Ex-DOH Sec. Ona: Garin solely responsible for Dengvaxia 'nightmare'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 11) — Former Health Secretary Enrique Ona blamed his successor Janette Garin for the country's Dengvaxia "nightmare."

Ona refuted on Monday Garin's earlier claim he started the talks between the government and drug maker Sanofi Pasteur to procure anti-dengue vaccines; he said she was "solely responsible" for the national health risk.

"The leadership that took over the DOH after I left on December 20, 2014 is solely responsible for all the decisions that have resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today," he said in a statement.

In an interview with ANC on Friday, Garin said Ona announced in June or July of 2014 that there will be a dengue vaccine by 2015 and the Health Department was considering adding it to their public health program. She added Ona started the talks between Sanofi and the Philippine government.

Ona confirmed he communicated with the pharmaceutical giant, but it was only because Sanofi Pasteur was requesting for briefings on the status of the clinical trial of their anti-dengue vaccine being tested in Southeast Asia.

"Unfortunately, during all these time until the end of my term, the Sanofi staff, though optimistic, never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use and only gave vague projection to me of the time when it may be ready for launching," he said.

Ona added, "We did not allocate any budget for dengue vaccine for 2016 since I considered this vaccine as still at its 'developmental stage' and was undergoing further observation and evaluation."

He said he was already out of the government when he first heard the DOH will purchase Dengvaxia.

On December 22, 2015, the Philippines granted the marketing approval to Dengvaxia, making it the first vaccine to be licensed for the prevention of dengue in Asia. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for the prevention of disease caused by all four dengue types in individuals from nine to 45 years old living in high-risk areas.

On February 11, 2016, the Philippines, under Garin, hosted the worldwide launch of Dengvaxia.

On April 6, 2016, the government kicked off its ₱3.5-billion school-based dengue immunization program.

Around 10 percent of over 830,000 students who were immunized with Dengvaxia, but did not have a prior dengue infection, now face contracting a "serious disease," according to Sanofi Pasteur.

The Senate on Monday and House on Wednesday are set to tackle the Health Department's controversial dengue vaccine program, which has since been suspended amid health risks.