Ex-President Aquino: No one advised me against Dengvaxia

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — Former President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday said he was not advised against Dengvaxia from the time of its procurement until his administration rolled out its nationwide anti-dengue vaccine program.

Aquino, who attended the joint hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon, Health, and Finance panels into the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy as a resource person, said no questions were raised when the now-controversial vaccine was bought during his term.

"Bago nagdesisyon ang gobyerno sa Dengvaxia, habang nagdedesisyon, pagkatapos magdesisyon, at hanggang ngayon, walang nagparating sa akin ng pagtutol sa bakuna," he said.

[Translation: No one advised me against Dengvaxia during the decision-making process, after we procured, and until now.]

The Aquino administration bought P3.5 billion-worth of dengue vaccine from Sanofi Pasteur in 2016. The national immunization program began a month before the presidential elections in May.

The pharmaceutical giant in November 2017 revealed Dengvaxia may lead to more severe forms of dengue in those not infected by the virus before.

Aquino said he was told by experts Dengvaxia went through safety and efficacy tests.

"Sa aking pagkaunawa, sa lahat ng ibinalita ng eksperto, dumaan na po ito sa lahat ng proseso para malaman ang kaniyang efficacy at mas importante, ang kanyang safety," he said.

[Translation: Based on my understanding, as told by experts, it underwent the process to find its efficacy and safety.]

He added the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the vaccine.

"Paliwanag sa akin, U.S. FDA ang nagreregulate sa international clinical trials. Dahil dumaan sa ganitong proseso, ang alam natin, safe na ang Dengvaxia para sa tao," he said.

[Translation: It was told U.S. FDA regulate the international clinical trials. Because it went through that process, we knew it was safe.]

Health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon said Aquino cannot be faulted if he was given "misleading" information on Dengvaxia.

"How can you blame the president if the president was fed with wrong information by WHO or Secretary Garin?" he said, referring to the World Health Organization and former Health Secretary Janette Garin.

In a press briefing after the probe, Aquino said that the purchase of the vaccines is an attempt to alleviate his successor of problems in the country.

"When I talk about my successor, one of the tests if I did well or not is I left him or her, with less problems than what I had. I think this is one of the efforts to achieve that. 'Yung problema natin taun-taon sa dengue, sana hindi na pareho 'yung problema, may asenso na 'yung nangyari," he said.

[Translation: When I talk about my successor, one of the tests if I did well or not is I left him or her, with less problems than what I had. I think this is one of the efforts to achieve that. Our problems on dengue should be less difficult to manage.]

According to Spokesperson Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte believes the former administration's procurement of the vaccine was done in good faith.

READ: Duterte thinks Dengvaxia purchase done in 'good faith' - Roque

The World Health Organization said the Philippines launched its dengue immunization program before WHO issued its "recommendation" or guidelines for countries to consider introducing Dengvaxia to its programs.

The WHO earlier outlined its guidelines for countries considering to use Dengvaxia.

"First, use of the vaccine should only be considered in areas where a high proportion of the community had already been exposed to the virus; second, the vaccine should only be provided to people 9 years of age and above; and third, people being vaccinated should receive 3 doses," it said.

The Senate is also looking into the purchase of Dengvaxia as a possible "midnight deal." Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chair Richard Gordon earlier said Aquino may have been involved in a conspiracy in the procurement of the dengue vaccines in 2016.

Aquino confirmed he met with officials of Sanofi in December 1, 2015, when he went to Paris for the COP21.

Garin earlier denied they met with Sanofi officials to negotiate the price of the vaccine.

Garin said the procurement of Dengvaxia was not hastily implemented. She said all dealings with vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur were above board.

The Philippines granted the marketing approval to Dengvaxia on December 2015, 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. A few weeks after in March, Garin issued a P3-billion disbursement voucher to the Philippine Children's Medical Center to fund the purchase of the vaccines. On April 6, 2016, the government kicked off its P3.5-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 government also said at least 32,000 private patients were vaccinated with Dengvaxia.