Ex-President Aquino, Garin face probe over dengue vaccine mess

MANILA -- The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday said former President Benigno Aquino III and former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin are among those who will be included in the National Bureau of Investigation's (NBI) probe on the PHP3.5-billion dengue vaccine project that has been found to cause health risks to children already injected but without history of the disease.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday said Aquino will be investigated for giving the go-signal for the DOH to proceed with the vaccination project in 2016.

Meanwhile, Garin insisted on implementing the project despite strong objections from medical experts due to lack of certification from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Yes. Everybody who was involved will be included in the NBI investigation, Aguirre said in text message sent to reporters when asked if the former President will be covered by the NBI probe,

Aguirre directed NBI Director Dante Gierran to submit a report to his office on its current activities related to the implementation of the order.

We have to know why (the DOH) ordered such a huge amount of vaccine and immediately vaccinated 733,000 schoolchildren. Is that appropriate? Aguirre said in a press briefing.

During the press briefing, Aguirre met with Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founder Dante Jimenez and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio as the group offered to help the government in gathering evidence against those responsible for the fiasco.

Jimenez said the VACC had received information that three grade school pupils who were vaccinated in April 2016 had recently died.

Jimenez said the group would write to Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones to identify those who were given the vaccine for the possible filing of a class suit.

Topacio said that the VACC will help bring those responsible for this greatest disaster ever to befall this nation before the bar of justice

Practically, this is genocide, intended or unintended. And people have to be responsible for this disaster, Topacio said.

In the same press briefing, Topacio also showed a photograph apparently showing former President Aquino in a meeting with Sanofi officials on November 2014 in Beijing and December 2015 in Paris.

The VACC is also pushing for the conduct of investigation in order to hold those responsible for the mass vaccination.

The DOH said around 10 percent of the over 700,000 school children who received the shots at risk to a "severe" case of the disease, prompting DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III to order the suspension of the dengue vaccination program pending recommendation on further action from experts from the WHO.

The VACC called the immunization program "worse than any heinous crime," and urged the DOH to set up help desks to receive complaints from concerned parents and also vowed to help them seek compensation for the families whose children may have received potentially risky anti-dengue shots.

Pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur recently issued an advisory to the public that its product Dengvaxia is effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization but creates a risk of a "severe" case of dengue for people who have not yet had dengue.

Prior to this, the Philippines was the first Asian country to approve the vaccine for individuals aged 9 to 45 years old in December 2015.

Source: Philippine News Agency