By Hannah L. Torregoza
Former Health Secretary Enrique Ona yesterday blamed his successor, Secretary Janette Garin, for the major health nightmare caused by the Aquino government’s botched anti-dengue vaccine program.
At the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation into the government’s controversial procurement of P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia from French pharmaceutical Sanofi Pasteur, Ona said the leadership that took over the DoH after he left on Dec. 20, 2014 “is solely responsible for all the decisions” concerning the anti-dengue vaccine.
Ona denied President Benigno S. Aquino III who said that he was part of the meeting with executives of Sanofi in Beijing, China in December 2014.
Garin, then undersecretary, took over as DoH chief shortly after Ona left the Aquino Cabinet that year.
Around 830,000 public school students had been vaccinated with Dengvaxia under Garin’s watch. It was also during her stint when the mass anti-dengue immunization program was implemented and continued by her successor Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial.
According to the DoH, the mass vaccination was launched in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Metro Manila, and Cebu.
Ona said during his four-and-a-half-year term at the DoH, Sanofi officials requested annual briefings on the status of the clinical study for the anti-dengue vaccine being tested in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, and several other countries in South America.
“I had high hopes like many others that the vaccine being developed would eventually control this mosquito-borne disease that affects more than a hundred thousand Filipinos or patients annually and scares so many of our foreign visitors and tourists,” Ona told committee chairperson Sen. Richard J. Gordon.
“In light of this Sanofi Pasteur’s advisory on the use of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DoH after I left in Dec. 20, 2014 are solely responsible for all the decisions that has resulted in what was becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country,” Ona said.
Had he been the DoH Secretary, Ona said he would not have recommended to Aquino to implement the anti-dengue program which targeted at least one million children “to that extent.”
“Dapat po this should have not been implemented the way it was done. Meaning, targeting almost a million children because the basis for the issues that were being raised were still a big question mark,” he said. “I would have not agreed in that extent. I would not have gone into that,” Ona stressed.