Ex-Health Chief Garin: I don't regret implementing Dengvaxia program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — Former Health Secretary Janette Garin does not regret carrying out the controversial Dengvaxia immunization program, but she still supports an investigation into the matter.

"We made a decision based on the situation at the time, based on the information given to us... Kaya naniniwala po kami, at naniniwala po ako na doon sa prinesenta e makakabuti naman sa karamihan ng Pilipino," Garin told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

[Translation: So we believed, and I believe, that from what was presented, it could be beneficial for a lot of Filipinos.]

"I don't regret implementing it, however mas gusto ko... ipagpatuloy ang imbestigasyon. At kung may makikitaang kailangang managot e we proceed with the usual course of justice," she added.

[Translation: I don't regret implementing it, however I'd rather... continue the investigation. If someone has to be accountable, we will proceed with the usual course of justice.]

Under Garin's term, the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine was administered to over 800,000 students in 2016. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur later revealed it could possibly cause "severe disease" on those who had not been infected by dengue before. Both houses of Congress are probing the issue.

However, Garin maintained that international protocol was followed at the time the vaccine was administered.

The Public Attorney's Office (PAO) claimed there were "strong links" between Dengvaxia and 14 children's deaths, but admitted their findings were inconclusive. Figures from the medical community slammed PAO for causing panic by releasing information that could not be proven outright.

PAO was also questioned as to whether it was qualified to carry out forensic investigations, when their team did not have a pathologist present during the autopsies.

"But what makes me wonder is that despite the fact that experts are coming out, [and] all other agencies in government would like to work with them together, there seems to be a barrier," said Garin.

"There seems to be a force that prevents them from working with other government agencies."

Take Dengvaxia issue to court

Garin said the issue ought to be taken to court, to allow her to present the timeline of the program and to allow "real experts" to stand as witnesses.

"I believe the investigation should now shift to the courts... We have a case in (the Commission on Elections). We have a case in (the Department of Justice). We have a case before the Ombudsman," Garin said.

She added that shifting the discussion to the courts would ease "hysteria and panic" among the public.

Four mothers who said their children were administered Dengvaxia lunged at Garin after a Congress hearing earlier this month. They have since apologized.

READ: Ex-Health chief Garin: Attempted assault by mothers of Dengvaxia-vaccinated children an 'act'

PAO forensic consultant 'irresponsible'

Garin also slammed PAO forensic consultant Erwin Erfe for publicizing a supposed pattern in the deaths, which she said was not scientific.

"Napakalungkot na meron tayong kasamahang doctor na hindi nirerecognize kung paano dinidetermine ng World Health Organization yung causality," said Garin.

[Translation: It's saddening that we have a fellow doctor who doesn't recognize how the (WHO) determines causality.]

She said that supposed side effects should be reviewed by a committee that examines adverse effects following immunization.

The credentials of Erfe's team have also been questioned by members of the medical community.

Along with about 400 doctors, former health chief Dr. Esperanza Cabral urged the DOJ to stop PAO from conducting autopsies and leave the investigation to "more competent people."

Related: Ex-Health chief: PAO partly to blame for Dengvaxia 'mass hysteria'

The PAO has since said they delivered tissue samples to a pathologist, a supposed Dr. John Arnel Amata. Garin suggested directly asking this doctor about the findings.

Watch The Source's full interview with Garin here.