By Xave Gregorio
Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta back pedalled on her commitment to Senate Blue Ribbon chair Senator Dick Gordon and health committee chair Senator JV Ejercito that her office will finally work together with the Department of Health (DOH) on the investigation into the Dengvaxia mess.
Acosta said parents of children who supposedly died due to Dengvaxia objected to her concession before the two Senate committees during its hearing last week.
“When I went home, some families are texting me, ‘Why will you join them? Are you selling us?’” Acosta said Monday (February 26) during the House good government and public accountability and health committees’ hearing into the P3.5 billion Dengvaxia controversy.
This is a complete turnaround from her position at the last Senate hearing, where she agreed with Gordon and Ejercito’s suggestion for her office and the DOH to meet to work together in probing alleged Dengvaxia-related deaths, on the condition that the chairs of the two Senate committees are there.
“We have to be in this together, na huwag tayong maghihilahan,” Ejercito told Acosta, who replied, “Opo, para masagip iyong mga buhay. Opo.”
Acosta stood pat on her repeated allegations against certain members of the DOH-sanctioned University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) panel probing supposed Dengvaxia-related deaths, saying they have conflicts of interest with the vaccine’s manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur.
Quoting a lifestyle magazine “someone sent” her, Acosta pointed out that UP-PGH member Dr. Maria Cecilia Lim is a “professional partner” of Dr. Raquel Fortun, who the lawyer said was hired as a consultant by law firm ACCRALAW, which is the legal counsel of Sanofi.
Acosta also showed a press release which showed that Zuellig Pharma, the local distributor of Sanofi, plans to construct the “Dr. Stephen Zuellig” building for UP.
She also put on blast former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who has given recommendations on the Dengvaxia investigation, as she is a board member of the Zuellig Foundation.
The lawyer added that they cannot work with the DOH as some of its former and incumbent officials are respondents in the sole case that they have filed related to Dengvaxia.
UP-PGH dengue task force head Dr. Juliet Aguilar defended her team and its members, saying the selection for those who formed part of the panel “very very stringent” because of the “significant importance” of the Dengvaxia probe.
Aguilar said they wanted Fortun in the Dengvaxia panel, however, she refused to join as she had already been associated with Sanofi.
Aguilar further said in screening individuals for the 10-member panel that they made sure to exclude any doctor who had been associated with any vaccine company or had given Dengvaxia to a patient.
“We had to make sure no one will be questioned for entanglement,” she said.
Dengvaxia, revealed by Sanofi to cause serious illness among those who have not yet been infected with dengue, was given to over 800,000 children.
Some parents of kids vaccinated with Dengvaxia have come forward claiming that their children died due to the dengue vaccine.
Probes into the botched vaccination program, where former Health Secretary Janette Garin and even former President Noynoy Aquino are implicated, are rolling in both houses of Congress.