Duterte wants experts panel to probe Dengvaxia mess

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — With conflicting official reports on deaths allegedly caused by the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the creation of an independent experts panel to look into the controversy.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday said Duterte wants experts – all from Asia – to look into the effect of the dengue vaccine administered to over 800,000 children.

"The President, after much discussion, said that he will create a three-man panel of experts. He will be bound by the findings of this three-man experts on the issue whether or not Dengvaxia actually caused deaths," he said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

The Public Attorney's Office (PAO) in February said there's a link between the deaths of 22 children IT autopsied and the dengue vaccine. On the other hand, the Philippine General Hospital's (PGH) Dengue Investigative Task Force has found that out of the 14 deaths investigated, only two deaths may be due to Dengvaxia failure.

"The problem of the President, although there's a finding of PAO experts and PGH panel of experts finding, as a lawyer and a prosecutor, he knows expert witnesses can cancel out each other's testimonies," Roque said.

He added Duterte's requirements were the three experts should be foreign nationals who are not linked to the government and vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur.

"Pakikinggan niya ang opinyon ng ekspertong ito nang makausad na tayo sa Dengvaxia. Nag-aantay pa ng mas malinaw na scientific finding kaya bubuuin ang panel," he said.

Roque also said Duterte is urging the Congress to pass a law to allow the use of the ₱1.16 billion refunded from Zuellig Pharma for the medical needs of children injected with Dengvaxia.

Dengvaxia was administered to over 800,000 students in a school-based government immunization program in April 2016.

Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur in November 2017 announced the vaccine posed potentially severe dengue risks among those with no dengue history.

The resulting panic prompted the Health Department to suspend its program and the Senate to investigate the ₱3.5 billion spent on it.