SENATOR Richard Gordon on Wednesday questioned the acquisition by the Aquino administration of P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccines, saying the speed with which the deal was approved suggested the money was used for the elections instead.
While no appropriation was made for the purchase, funds were immediately made available toward the end of year, said Gordon, who began a Senate investigation into the acquisition Tuesday.
“We’re talking here about a huge amount—a whopping P3.5 billion,” said Gordon, chairman of fhe Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
Gordon would not say outright that the transaction was irregular but said: “Just look at the start—it started November 24 , by June, the papers started moving.”
“This began in China, with President Aquino when he was approached by a senior vice president, and after that, everything went fast. And then in France, when President Aquino went there for climate change [summit], he had a meeting again with Sanofi,” Gordon added.
“We ought to know no untoward incident occurred when they were wooing the former President. I’ll give you the timeline, which was fast—December 2, there was a meeting in Paris; by December 22, there was the approval by our FDA (Food and Drug Administration). By December 29, we already had a Saro [Special Allotment Release Order] for P3.5 billion,” he said.
“That was a huge amount of money, which was taken from the savings, no appropriation from Congress.... It’s just like DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program]... We really need to investigate this,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he was also baffled why the dengue vaccine was given priority when only 250 people died from the disease in a year and over 200,000 people afflicted.
“Should it come first?” Gordon asked.
“There’s a much bigger budget for the dengue vaccine, but we still fail in the Millennium Development Goals,” he added.
He also said the P3.5 billion spent on the dengue vaccine was the same as the amount spent on the expanded immunization program that covered seven ailments, including pneumonia and cervical cancer.
Although he was not assigning any malice, Gordon said the circumstances surrounding the procurement were suspicious “from top to bottom.”
Anthony Leachon, an independent health advocate and member of the Dengue Expert Panel convened by the DoH, also questioned how a P3.5-billion fund was allocated for a single vaccine when the DoH’s entire vaccination program costs P3 billion.
He also underscored procedural lapses in the dengue vaccination program, the evident conflict of interest in the members of the formulary executive community, and the supposed overpricing of the particular drug.
Antonio Miguel Dans, another health advocate who represented the Philippine College of Physicians and National Academy of Science and Technology, supported the move to suspend the dengue program pending further investigation and until the safety, cost-effectiveness and preparedness of the recipient students are assured.
Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa also questioned the use of P3.5 billion for a vaccine “with questionable efficacy and safety.”
He said the dengue vaccine was never part of the DoH expanded immunization program and stressed that it was still experimental at Phase IV and should have been launched physician- supervised not school-based.
“It was never budgetted by DoH in 2014, 2015, 2016 and also in 2017. They only requested for it in November of 2015. DBM [The Budget Department] gave them ‘savings’ from personnel salaries. The DoH official added that when the program was launched last April, there was very poor preparation in the communities.
He also cited two recorded deaths of children after they were injected with the vaccine.
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