Dengvaxia purchase decision during Garin’s term: Ona

MANILA — Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona on Sunday distanced himself from the dengue vaccine mess since he has already left DOH when officials decided to purchase Dengvaxia for its dengue immunization program in 2016.

“I was out of the government in 2016 when I first heard that the DOH was going to purchase this new Sanofi Pasteur dengue vaccine,” said Ona in a statement in reaction to former DOH Secretary Janette L. Garin’s remarks that the discussion on dengue started long before she became the Secretary of Health in 2015.

Ona added that he was the Secretary of Health from June 2010 to December 2014 or a period of four and a half years and therefore he cannot be part of any decision made afterward he left the department.

“In the light of the Sanofi Pasteur advisory on the use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DOH after I left on Dec. 20, 2014, is solely responsible for all the decisions that have resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today,” he said.

He said there were times during his incumbency that Sanofi Pasteur requested a meeting where they discussed the status of the clinical trial of their anti-dengue vaccine being tested (phase 3 trial) in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines as well as several countries in South America.

“This occurred almost annually during my term as Secretary,” Ona added.

The former health official added that during that time he showed interest on the status of the clinical trials because dengue fever is rampant in the country .

“I had high hopes, like many others that the vaccine being developed would eventually control this mosquito-borne disease that afflicts more than a hundred thousand Filipinos (patients) annually and scares so many foreign visitors and tourists,” he said.

He added that as far as he knew, until the end of his term, the Sanofi staff, though optimistic, had never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use.

He said projection of the time when the vaccine can be ready for launching was also vague to him during those times.

“I recall on more than one occasion that I mentioned in passing to then President Aquino of a possible dengue vaccine that may be ready ‘anytime soon.’ However, we did not allocate any budget for dengue vaccine for 2016 since I considered this vaccine as still at its ‘developmental stage’ and was undergoing further observation and evaluation,” he said.