DENGVAXIA HOTLINE The militant women’s group Gabriela launches the “Dengvaxia Hotline” that will receive calls from concerned parents of more than 800,000 children who had been injected with the controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. The hotline will be open to callers daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ
Twenty-one schoolchildren, who were inoculated with the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine, filed graft charges on Friday against former President Benigno Aquino III, three of his Cabinet members, including then Health Secretary Janette Garin, and executives of Sanofi Pasteur, the drug manufacturer.
Reacting to the charges, Abigail Valte, spokesperson for Aquino, said the “former President’s attendance at the Senate committee hearing [on the vaccine] has proven one thing: he takes accountability seriously and will continue to answer any and all allegations thrown at him.”
Also on Friday, the women’s group Gabriela and 70 children represented by their mothers and guardians asked the Supreme Court to order the government to address the health risks posed by Dengvaxia.
The petition asked the high court to order free medical services to the 70 children, all of whom were inoculated with Dengvaxia, after Sanofi admitted recently that persons who had not had dengue fever before their vaccination might suffer severe dengue later.
Represented by their parents, the group of 21 children—all residents of Valenzuela City—as well as Gabriela officials led by Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, charged Aquino and Garin with violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the procurement law in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Also named respondents were Aquino’s budget secretary, Florencio Abad, and executive secretary, Paquito Ochoa, as well as Sanofi’s Guillaume Leroy, Olivier Brandicourt, Ruby Dizon, Thomas Triomphe and Carlito Realuyo.
The complaint was the second to be filed against Aquino and Garin. Last week, former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. accused the two former officials of plunder, graft and corruption, and mass murder for using 733,000 schoolchildren as “human guinea pigs.”
In the second complaint, the schoolchildren accused Aquino, Garin, Abad, Ochoa and Sanofi officials of “knowingly and in bad faith compromising the health and safety of the children targeted for vaccination.”
“For the respondents, the P3.5 billion in taxpayer money paid to Sanofi Pasteur appeared to have been weightier than the lives of more than 700,000 children they have sworn to protect,” the complaint said.
It said the respondents caused and continued to cause undue injury to the government for vaccines that “turned out to be harmful or not subjected to complete study.”
Uproar, Senate hearings
On Nov. 29, Sanofi Pasteur issued a global advisory warning of the risks of administering Dengvaxia to “seronegative” persons, or those with no history of dengue, saying a small proportion of them might contract severe symptoms of the disease instead.
Sanofi’s announcement sparked public uproar and congressional investigations of the role of officials of the Aquino administration, which began administering the Dengvaxia shots to thousands of schoolchildren in 2016 just before the elections.
Garin and Aquino separately appeared in Senate hearings, in which both officials defended their decision to immediately launch the program in order not to expose more Filipinos to dengue.
The group of 70 children filed in the Supreme Court the mandamus petition for free medical services through their lawyers.
Free medical services
“These free medical services shall continue until it would have been determined and declared by competent and medical and/or scientific experts that the threat/s brought about by the Dengvaxia vaccine have been minimized or eliminated,” the petitioners said.
Named respondents were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Local Government Secretary Catalino Cuy, together with Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy (program director of the Department of Health National Center for Disease Prevention and Control) and Nela Charade Puno, director general of the Food and Drug Administration.
The petitioners wanted the court to order the regular public dissemination of reports of the Department of Health (DOH) task force created to monitor and review the immunization program.
The reports must also be submitted to the Senate and House committees on health, which are conducting inquiries into the controversy.
The respondents should also create a registry of all children and other persons who were inoculated, including those who had not had dengue prior to vaccination, the petitioners said.
They said the DOH should be tasked with conducting further study and review of the safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia, with results to be made public and subject to review by “independent and competent medical experts.” —WITH A REPORT FROM NIKKO DIZON