Former Health Secretary Janette Garin admitted to meeting officials from the French pharmaceuticals company Sanofi Pasteur in 2015 in Paris to discuss the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine after earlier denying the meeting.
Garin confirmed her meeting with Sanofi officials in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) on December 8, but emphasized that there was no malice to the meeting, given the presence of Foreign Affairs representative.
“Tama po ‘yun, nagkamali po talaga ako kasi I was being asked on a dinner that happened 2 years ago,” Garin told ANC’s Henry Omaga Diaz.
“Kung may malisya ‘yun, bakit mayroon tayong kasamahan from DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs),” she added.
Garin previously admitted to visiting Paris in May 2015 but said that she only had a meeting with the French Health Minister and denied meeting with Sanofi executives in her May 2017 interview with ABS-CBN.
Garin’s statement on Friday backtracking on her earlier denials came after an ABS-CBN News report was published on December 7, 2017 about her 2015 meeting with Sanofi.
ABS-CBN News said that they obtained a copy of a May 2015 report by the Philippine Ambassador to France Theresa P. Lazaro to the DFA detailing everything Garin did in Paris during her visit. Lazaro reported that Garin dined with Sanofi’s VP of the Dengue Vaccine Program, Guillame Leroy; Sanofi Pasteur’s Senior Director for Vaccination Policy and Advocacy, Jean-Antonie Zinsou; Sanofi’s Country Manager in the Philippines, Ching Santos. Among the things discussed were the vaccine’s price, how to establish a demand for Dengvaxia in the Philippines, and how to justify the vaccines’ inclusion in the country’s budget.
The same report from the ambassador said that it was Garin who suggested that the vaccine should be launched in the “private sector” in the Philippines first to create a demand, hence justifying the inclusion of Dengvaxia in the Philippine budget. It also said that Garin and the rest of her delegation was even toured by Sanofi officials around the pharmaceuticals’ Neuville Dengue Facility in Lyon, Eastern France.
Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, Garin’s successor, told ABS-CBN that while she did now know anything about Garin’s meeting with Sanofi, she called it “unethical,” adding that it was against their code of conduct to meet with any supplier or manufacturer because as Health Secretary, they are the head of the agency that would procure the product. Ubial also commented about Garin’s tour of the dengue facility, saying that the tour should been done by technical experts.
In the report, Garin said that she is ready to face any probe on Dengvaxia and her 2015 meeting with Sanofi in Paris.
After admitting to her dinner with Sanofi, Garin confirmed that she did talk about the vaccine and its price, which was discussed since 2010, and suggested on launching the vaccine in the private sector first. She also noted how the presence of a DFA official proved that she was not hiding anything.
“Kung mayroon akong tinatago, I will not do it in the presence of DFA. Alam naman natin na transparent ‘yan,” she said.
The Philippines allowed the use of Dengvaxia in December 2015 when Garin served as DOH chief. Since then, the dengue vaccination program has become controversial with questions as to its price and efficacy, among others.
Government data showed that as of November 2017, about 830,000 children have been vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
On December 1, Sanofi issued a warning about using their dengue vaccine only for people who have been infected by dengue before since it might lead to “increased risk of hospitalization for dengue and severe dengue, predominantly Grade I or II Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.”