By Ellson Quismorio
The House committee on good government and public accountability chairman sees graft charges being lodged against the officials responsible for the dengue vaccine mess.
“The hustled purchase of P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia shots in 2015 may be considered highly detrimental to the government,” Surigao del Sur second district Rep. Johnny Pimentel said today.
Under the law, Pimentel said entering into any contract or transaction that is deemed “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous” to the government constitutes a corrupt and unlawful practice.
“Officials found liable may be penalized with up to 15 years in prison, plus perpetual disqualification from public office,” Pimentel said, referring to the provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The Mindanao solon likened the purchase of Dengvaxia boosters to buying an automobile that turns out to be a “lemon”– a product that is unsatisfactory and defective.
Right thing to do
Meanwhile, Pimentel urged Dengvaxia’s manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, to promptly return the P3.5 billion that the Philippine government, through the Department of Health (DOH), paid for the anti-dengue shots.
“This is the right thing for Sanofi to do. The sooner they give us back the money, the better,” he said.
The lawmaker also urged Sanofi Pasteur to establish an indemnity fund, as proposed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, to pay for the future hospitalization and treatment of Filipino schoolchildren who may be rendered sick after receiving Dengvaxia shots. Over 800,000 children were administered the treatment.
Sanofi Pasteur recently released the negative findings of its long-term follow-up study of Dengvaxia, the world’s first-ever licensed anti-dengue vaccine.
The study showed that “people who never had dengue but who were given the shots had an increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.”
Under the administration of former President Benigno S. Aquino III and Health Secretary Janet Garin, the Philippines became the first country in the world to launch in April 2016 a public inoculation plan against dengue using Dengvaxia.
The DOH suspended the anti-dengue immunization drive on December 1 after Sanofi Pasteur conceded that Dengvaxia could worsen symptoms for vaccinated people who contracted the disease for the first time.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since blocked the sale, distribution and marketing of the vaccine in the Philippines.
Sanofi Pasteur is the vaccines division of French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi S.A.