Garin dismisses conspiracy theories on dengue vaccine purchase

MANILA — Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin on Monday dismissed conspiracy theories on the purchase of PHP3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccines called Dengvaxia, during the Aquino administration which was later reported to pose risks to those who have not been previously infected by the virus.

During a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the issue, Garin denied involvement in corruption within the agency during her term and that there was any rush to purchase the vaccines at all.

Garin rejected reports that there was negotiation on the prices of the dengue vaccine noting that it was the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur that decided on the price on its own.

She, however, admitted that there was no allocation in the 2015 and 2016 national budgets for the purchase of the vaccines since it would be covered by sin taxes.

The former DOH chief also clarified that it was not the DOH but the Philippine Medical Children’s Center (PMCC) that purchased the vaccines but noted that she stood by their decision.

Garin made these statements after Senator Richard Gordon said that he saw “strong signs of conspiracy” in the vaccine purchase noting that it seemed like there was a hurry to procure them.

Gordon, chair of the committee investigating the issue, said that his suspicion was fueled by reports that Garin and former President Benigno Aquino III had several meetings with Sanofi officials and each meeting resulting in the acceleration of the procurement process.

He raised the possibility that the vaccine purchase was supply-driven instead of needs-driven especially because Garin’s May 2015 meeting with Sanofi Pasteur executives “creates a circumstantial connection leading to irregularity.”

Despite not being invited to the hearing, Gordon said that he did not clear former President Aquino of culpability in the dengue vaccine issue.

He pointed out that the funds used for the procurement were re-aligned from the savings from Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund pertaining to the DOH.

The senator said that realigning the budget without getting approval from Congress required someone “from higher up” to do.

It may be recalled that the dengue vaccine was licensed for use in the Philippines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2015.

DOH earlier confirmed that it has administered the dengue vaccine to hundreds of thousands of school children in Central Luzon, Metro Manila, and Calabarzon. To date, the DOH has stopped implementation of its program.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, in the hearing, assured that the agency has raised surveillance on risks that could arise from those who received the vaccine.

It has also instructed PhilHealth to prepare costs for cases that need treatment.

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