By AFP and Hannah L. Torregoza
The government 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, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque has said.
Regulators froze the country’s 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,” Duque said on ABS-CBN television.
The previous administration of President Benigno S. 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, Duque said. Previously, the government said more than 733,000 people had been vaccinated.
Sanofi’s announcement last week caused great concern in the country – where the mosquito-borne disease is extremely prevalent.
The French company has sought to allay concerns, saying Dengvaxia would not cause anyone who was immunized to die and would not cause a dengue infection.
However, Duque said Sanofi’s recent statements on Dengvaxia were “confusing.”
Duque said he may ask Sanofi to refund R1.4 billion or $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 Duque’s remarks.
Asked if the government would sue Sanofi if allegations of a lack of transparency were proved, 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.”
Duque said congressional hearings into the issue would start next week.
Meanwhile, Sen. JV Ejercito has urged Aquino to break his silence and shed light on the program he supposedly approved on the eve of the 2016 election campaign.
Aquino, who has been at the center of the botched immunization program implemented by the DoH, has yet to speak up about the Dengvaxia issue, Ejercito noted.
He also asked Aquino to speak up about his meetings with Sanofi officials.