By Ben Rosario
An independent Dengvaxia Commission has been proposed as various government agencies conducting separate probes on the controversial anti-dengue vaccination program clashed over different methods of investigation and findings.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo urged President Rodrigo Duterte to consider the proposal that seeks to create an independent body that would conduct a single and in-depth probe into the Dengvaxia controversy.
Castelo warned that unless government bodies come up with similar results of their investigation, there is a strong likelihood of an unintentional whitewash that would only clear even the most guilty parties involved in the scandal.
The administration lawmaker stressed the need for a collaborative, coordinated, and comprehensive plan of action to address the numerous issues unearthed by the parallel inquiries into the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine being conducted by both houses of Congress.
“Our government needs to act and speak as one. At present, various government agencies are moving in different directions and issuing sometimes conflicting statements on the biggest public health crisis in recent history,” lamented Castelo.
“It’s time the discordant voices and separate investigations are put under one independent umbrella devoid of biases and political color for the sake of the close to nine hundred thousand affected children,” the solon added.
Aside from the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and the Public Attorney’s Office are pursuing parallel probes.
Castelo aired strong fears that one or two probe results will contradict the others, thus, resulting in a stalemate that will only be used by guilty or non-guilty parties to support their respective claims.
Castelo proposed that the commission focus on two distinct tasks: first, addressing the medical and public health concerns involving Dengvaxia; and second, establishing the administrative and criminal liability of those responsible for the controversial vaccination program.
“In effect, the commission will have two teams to look separately into these issues so that we can isolate the issues and come up with a more coherent action plan,” he explained.
He said the medical and public health team should be composed of experts in the field known for their competence, integrity, and independence.
The second team, on the other hand, should have members knowledgeable on governmental processes and procedures in carrying out public health programs, as well as rules on procurement and program implementation.
Apart from establishing liability and accountability, the commission shall also come up with recommendations on remedial and long-term actions that the government must undertake to address the multi-faceted problems created by the problematic vaccination program.
In 2016, more than 830,000 public school students in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Cebu were vaccinated with Dengvaxia as part of an anti-dengue immunization program which the Department of Health (DOH) suspended in December last year following Sanofi Pasteur’s announcement that the vaccine may increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients of the vaccine that had not yet contracted the disease.