Aquino, Garin face probe over vaccine mess; class suit eyed


FORMER President Benigno Aquino III and former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin will be covered by the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) probe on the P3.5-billion dengue vaccination project, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Monday.

Aquino will be investigated for giving the go-signal for the DOH to proceed with the vaccination project in 2016 as the vaccine has been found to pose health risks to vaccinated children who have not yet been infected with dengue, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said.

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

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.

Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) plans to file a class suit against all those behind the immunization project.

VACC founder Dante Jimenez and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio met with Aguirre and offered to help the government gather 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.

“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 Aquino in a meeting with Sanofi officials on November 2014 in Beijing and December 2015 in Paris. Sanofi Pasteur is the manufacturer of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

The DOH said around 10 percent of the over 700,000 school children who received the Dengvaxia shots is at risk of contracting 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. rw: wjg