MANILA, Philippines — In an interview on the program Get It Straight with Daniel Razon Wednesday, health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon revealed the alleged anomaly in the processing and procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Leachon was part of the then dengue expert panel of the Department of Health(DOH), who strongly opposed the mass vaccination of Dengvaxia.
The doctor argued that those behind the controversy did not follow the policy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the conduct of a post clinical trial.
In a post clinical trial, the 3,000 test subjects who received the vaccine should undergo observation first for one year before health authorities could approve its use for mass vaccination.
He said that the DOH hastily approved the mass vaccination based on the recommendation of the FDA.
Of the 16 countries that approved Dengvaxia, only the Philippines used it for its mass vaccination program.
Leachon initially opposed before the Lower House of Congress the immediate market launch of Dengvaxia. However, he claimed some lawmakers prevented him from airing his concerns.
These lawmakers were then former congressman and now presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, Kabayan party-list representative, Ron Salo and SAGIP partylist representative, Rodante Marcoleta.
He said they asked him if he has the permission of the association to speak before Congress, to which he replied, ” Filipino citizen ako (I am a Filipino citizen).”
They then asked about his credentials to participate in the congressional debate which prompted an altercation among them.
On the other hand, Roque denied the allegations of Leachon.
“Wala pong katotohanan ang paratang na pinigil kong tumestigo sa kamara si Dr. Leachon. Unang-una, ako po ay hindi chairman ng committee on health. Chairman lang po ang pwedeng pumigil sa testigo ng kahit sino. Pangalawa, ako po ay naging neophyte o first-termer member ng Kamara wala po ako impluwensya,” he said.
(There is no truth to the accusation that I prevented Dr. Leachon from testifying in Congress. First of all, I was not the chairman of the committee on health. Only the chairman can stop a witness from testifying. Second, I was just a neophyte or first-termer member of Congress. I had no influence.)
Dr. Leachon also questioned the immediate approval of the budget for the said vaccine without, he claimed, undergoing congressional scrutiny.
The Congress normally takes six months to one year before approving such a huge amount. However, in the case of the mass vaccination of Dengvaxia, the approval for its budget took only a few months.
He also noted that the country’s total budget amount for all of its vaccination programs is only three billion pesos.
But the government allocated P3.5 billion for Dengvaxia alone, which Dr. Leachon alleged is one of DOH’s unapproved budget.
“Walang budget yan sa Kongreso (it had no approved budget in Congress),” he said, adding that the money may have been taken from sin taxes.
He also said that based on Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, “Sobra ang budget ng Department of Health sa personnel management. Doon daw kinuha, pero bawal daw yun dahil hindi inaprubahan ng Kongreso.”
(The Department of Health’s budget for personnel management had a surplus. It was allegedly taken from there but that’s not allowed because Congress did not approve it.)
During the term of then DOH Secretary Janet Garin, more than 400,000 were vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
The vaccination program came to a halt during the term of health Secretary Paulyn Ubial.
But after several months, the vaccination program continued, and more than 300,000 children received the controversial vaccine.
Dr. Leachon believes then health Secretary Ubial was pressured to continue the immunization program due to various reasons like her pending confirmation from the Commission on Appointments and the over P1.4 billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccine that was just being stored at that time.
“Grabe ang residual at that time P1.4 billion pa ang naka imbak sa RITM so kailangang gamitin mo…yun ang reasoning. Sinasabi masasayang, tapos yung political pressure,” said the health reform advocate.
(The residual at that time P1.4 billion worth of vaccines were stored at the RITM. So you really need to use it, that’s their reasoning. They were saying it would be a waste not to use it, and then there was the political pressure.)
Dr. Leachon has also expressed concern over a possible white wash in the upcoming congressional investigation on the said issue.
He said that the controversy should not be disregarded since many lives are at risk.
The health reform advocate noted that it is also possible that there will be a fall guy in the said anomaly.
He believes that the anomaly will be addressed if there will no longer be a conflict of interest, saying it is among the major reasons why the problem gets bigger.
Leachon suggested that the separation from each other of the FDA, DOH and the Formulary Executive Council, the agencies responsible for the approval of vaccines.
Dr. Leachon also mentioned the agencies and individuals he believes should be investigated. These include the bids and Awards Committee of DOH, the DOH officials during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III, the dengue expert team of the DOH, Sanofi Pasteur and the FDA.
At the end of the interview, Leachon called on the senators to allow the truth to come out during their conduct of investigation regarding the controversy. — Mon Jocson | UNTV News & Rescue
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