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PHL plans to sue Sanofi over vaccine — DoH chief

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File photo of empty vials of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia collated at the Manila Central Vaccine storage room in Sta Cruz, Manila taken on Dec. 4. KJ ROSALES/PHILIPPINE STAR

THE PHILIPPINES intends to sue Sanofi after authorities suspended the pharmaceutical giant’s anti-dengue vaccine in response to the company warning the drug could lead to severe infections in some cases, the health secretary said Thursday, Dec. 7.

Regulators froze the Philippines’ world-first public dengue immunization program last week and suspended all sales of the vaccine on Monday after Sanofi said Dengvaxia could worsen symptoms for vaccinated people who contracted the disease for the first time.

“Eventually it’s the court of law that is going to decide in so far as the liability of Sanofi is concerned,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said on ABS-CBN television.

The previous administration of president Benigno S. C. Aquino III launched the vaccination program last year, making the Philippines the first nation to use Dengvaxia on a mass scale.

About 830,000 schoolchildren had received at least one dose of the vaccine, Mr. Duque said on Thursday. Previously the government said more than 733,000 people had been vaccinated.

Sanofi’s announcement last week caused great concern in the Philippines — where the mosquito-born disease is extremely prevalent.

The French company on Monday sought to allay concerns, saying Dengvaxia would not cause anyone who was immunized to die and would not cause a dengue infection.

However, Mr. Duque said Thursday Sanofi’s recent statements on Dengvaxia were “confusing.”

The health chief said he may ask Sanofi to refund P1.4 billion ($27.6 million) worth of unused Dengvaxia supplies.

He added the government might also demand Sanofi set up an “indemnity fund” to cover the hospitalization cost for children vaccinated under the public program who would fall ill.

Sanofi was not immediately available to comment on Mr. Duque’s remarks.

Asked if the government would sue Sanofi if allegations of a lack of transparency were proved, Mr. Duque said: “I’m sure it’s going to get there.”

He added: “If it’s found out that (Sanofi) withheld material information that would have changed the outcome of all of these problems and the decision makers of the Department of Health in the previous administration, then they are liable.”

Mr. Duque said congressional hearings into the issue would start next week, as confirmed by Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito in a forum on Thursday.

Mr. Ejercito, who heads the Senate committee on health and demography, said of Mr. Duque’s predecessor during the Aquino administration, Janette L. Garin: “I want her to air her side.”

“(B)ut I don’t want to conclude na siya lang (that she alone is responsible),” the senator added. “Bigyan natin ng (Let’s give her the) benefit of the doubt. (Perhaps) they (were) just excited that finally there is now a vaccine against dengue…. (There is) suspicion (that) it was done in haste. Midnight deal daw (it’s alleged)….”

Mr. Ejercito also suggested that Mr. Aquino “can just speak about (his) meetings with Sanofi.”

Hindi naman sa pinagbibintangan natin siya. Pero siyempre, mainit ang issue, talagang hindi mo maiiwas na pag-iisipan na bakit before the procurement, bakit nagkaroon ng dalawang meeting. Baka naman coincidence, pero mas maganda siya na lang mag-explain kung bakit nagkaroon ng ganung meeting,” the senator also said.

(It’s not that we’re blaming him. But of course, this is a raging issue, you can’t avoid the speculation as to why, before the procurement, there were two meetings. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but it would be better if he explains those meetings). — main report by AFP

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