Duterte wants Sanofi held accountable for Dengvaxia mess – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte agrees pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur should be held liable for putting lives at risk through the now-controversial dengue vaccine, his spokesperson said Tuesday.

"He stands by the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) to hold Sanofi responsible," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.

"We want by bare of minimum a refund of what we have paid already for the Dengvaxia," he added.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has demanded from Sanofi Pasteur a refund of the P3.5 billion the government paid for the vaccines in 2016.

Roque said the French manufacturer concealed important information; that those not previously infected with dengue and got vaccinated with Dengvaxia could contract "severe disease."

"That was not a known fact when government decided to embark on the vaccination program," Roque said.

The Philippines implemented in 2016 the use of Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine. More than 830,000 children were vaccinated.

TIMELINE: The Dengvaxia controversy

Sanofi on November 29 said those who were immunized with Dengvaxia, but did not have a prior dengue infection, are at risk of having "severe disease." The DOH said around 10 percent or 80,000 of vaccinated children are at risk.

This prompted the DOH to temporarily halt its dengue vaccination program on December 1.

During the Senate probe on the health risks of Dengvaxia on Monday, Sanofi Pasteur Asia Pacific President Thomas Triomphe insisted there was no negligence on their part and maintained Dengvaxia is safe and effective.

He clarified the November 29 information, saying what it meant was "persons who have not been infected with the dengue virus before have a 0.2% increased risk of getting traditional Dengue symptoms, such as fever, low platelet count, or nose or gum bleeding."

Despite this, "the vaccine continues to be good, effective and safe" especially for those who had been infected with Dengue, "who constitutes the overwhelming 90% of the population of the Philippines," Triomphe added.

The Justice Department and the House of Representatives are also investigating the controversy.

Roque said the President has promised to "run after all individuals who may have criminal culpability for this."

Ex-DOH chief in hot water

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin, who rolled out the dengue immunization program in 2016, on Monday denied allegations of corruption and any wrongdoing.

Related: Mother accuses Garin, DOH of endangering children's lives due to Dengvaxia    

Garin confirmed she met with the pharmaceutical giant's top officials in Paris, France in 2015. But she clarified they talked about the price of selling Dengvaxia to the private sector, not for government procurement.

Related: Former DOH undersecretary: Garin, Sanofi meeting illegal

She said she is willing to face any investigation to prove there were no irregularities in the procurement of Dengvaxia.

Garin's predecessor, former Health Secretary Enrique Ona is blaming her for the country's Dengvaxia "nightmare." Ona said Garin was "solely responsible" for the national health risk.

This was also the accusation of former Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa. He said Garin conspired with Sanofi Pasteur to "hurriedly implement" the vaccination program.

CNN Philippines' Regine Cabato and Lara Tan contributed to this report.