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Duterte to create Asian panel of experts to probe Dengvaxia controversy

President Rodrigo Duterte will tap a three-man panel of Asian health experts to look into safety concerns raised against Dengvaxia, the world’s first dengue vaccine, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Duterte arrived at the decision during the Cabinet meeting in Malacañang on Monday with the Dengvaxia controversy as part of the agenda.

“?He will be bound by the findings of these three-man [panel of] experts on the issue of whether or not Dengvaxia actually caused deaths,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at a news conference, adding the foreign experts must have no ties with the Philippine government and Dengvaxia manufaturer Sanofi Pasteur.

Roque said conflicting findings of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital and Public Attorney’s Office, which conducted autopsies on children whose deaths are feared to be linked to the vaccine, prompted Duterte to “seek further advice” through the foreign panel of experts.

In February, the Department of Health confirmed that of the 14 children who died of various causes some time after receiving Dengvaxia, only three died of dengue, but none of the deaths could directly be attributed to the vaccine.

The PAO, however, is standing by its findings and has even filed criminal charges against former Health secretary Janette Garin and several others over the deaths of some schoolchildren administered with the vaccine.

“The problem of the President is although there is a finding of a PAO expert and there is a PGH panel of experts finding, as a lawyer and a former prosecutor he knows that expert witnesses can cancel out each other's testimonies,” Roque said.

“Papakinggan po niya ang report at opinyon ng mga ekspertong ito para makausad na tayo sa isyung Dengvaxia. Sa ngayon po nagaantay pa ng mas malinaw na scientific finding ang ating Presidente kaya nga po bubuoin niya itong three-man panel na experts para malaman talaga kung ano ang dapat gawin sa Dengvaxia,” he added.

Roque said the President also expressed support for the passage of a law seeking to allow the government to use the Sanofi refund amounting to nearly P1.2 billion for much-needed medical support for the children administered with the vaccine who fall ill.

The Department of Health and Department of Budget and Management had said they would not be able to use the money, currently deposited with the national treasury, due to lack authorization from Congress.

In a statement last month, the DOH said 1,967 out of 3,281 students hospitalized for various illnesses after receiving Dengvaxia during the government's school-based immunization program contracted dengue.

The DOH is currently investigating 65 deaths that occurred after immunization. It has allocated a total of P22.16 million for the hospitalization of Dengvaxia recipients.

The DOH stopped the government’s dengue immunization program last December following the admission of Sanofi Pasteur that the use of Dengvaxia must be strictly limited due to evidence it can worsen the disease in people who have not previously been exposed to dengue.

Last month, the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) said the vaccine should only be used after testing on individuals to determine their serotype or whether or not they have been exposed to dengue beforehand.

According to the DOH, more than 830,000 children — aged nine and above — from public schools in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Cebu were vaccinated with Dengvaxia since it was launched in April 2016. — RSJ, GMA News