An American expert on tropical diseases testified before the Senate on Tuesday that he warned anti-dengue vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur on the health risks of using the Dengvaxia vaccine in 2016, bolstering the government’s case against the French pharmaceutical giant and health officials of the Aquino administration.
Scott Halstead told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee he even sent a video of Antonio Dans, a health expert, hoping that it could be presented during a Blue Ribbon hearing that same year.
Halstead said that Dengvaxia should not be administered to seronegative individuals, or people who had never been infected with the dengue virus.
Halstead, a dengue expert, said he published two articles in 2016 suggesting that blood tests should be conducted on recipients of Dengvaxia before the actual vaccine was given.
This was because of the health risks Dengvaxia could bring to seronegative individuals.
“My contention was the vaccine is safe for seropositive but dangerous for seronegative and you can discriminate between the two through test,” Halstead said.
He dismissed the claims of Sanofi that the vaccine would be safe for children 9 years old and above, noting that such declaration did not fit biology of the human species.
Sanofi, he said, was aware of his study because the company responded and even published an answer. “They (Sanofi) said that they did not think there is enough data. And the contention of Sanofi is that there are more people benefited than hurt,” Halstead said.
“I was quite astonished and upset that this mass immunization is going forward,” he told the senators.
He also said the press release of Sanofi on November 29 saying that the vaccine was effective in patients who had a prior dengue infection but might cause more severe disease otherwise, was based on the result of the test that he had suggested.
The Blue Ribbon Committee officially ended its hearing into the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia controversy Tuesday and would be recommending charges to be filed against persons involved in the mess, including former president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
In an interview after the hearing, Sen. Richard Gordon said he had yet to discuss the matter with members of the committee, but was looking at recommending charges such as dereliction of duty, negligence and violation of the procurement law.
“Definitely anybody that has anything to do with the speed, the undue haste, the wastage of money and above all the severe pain that has been inflicted by deaths, by the painful stress and experience now being faced by our people will be included,” he said when asked who would be included in the recommendation for the filing of cases.
Apart from Aquino, Gordon said, former Budget secretary Florencio Abad and health officials of the previous administration headed by Janette Garin would be included in the Blue Ribbon report.
Sanofi will be cited for conspiracy, according to Gordon, adding that the company’s desire to regain its capital was the reason it pushed Dengvaxia to the Philippine government despite the risks.
Gordon noted during the hearing that neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore did not purchase Dengvaxia when it was offered to them. “So this means that we were reckless,” he said.
Present in the hearing were Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd and former Health secretary Paulyn Ubial.
Duque said he requested for the use of government funds so that he could, among others, appoint a team of 500 nurses to serve as surveillance officers who would go around schools and communities to regularly monitor the state of Dengvaxia recipients.
Duque also tapped the Red Cross in several regions to help bring potential victims directly to hospitals.
Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo said the Health department was planning to collaborate with the Department of Science and Technology to develop a reliable method of serotesting or of determining whether the patient was a first-time dengue patient.
At least three of the 14 reported fatalities were traced to Dengvaxia although further studies were needed, according to a study by a team from the University of the Philippines and Philippine General Hospital.
J. Antiporda, TMT