PAO files civil case vs. ex-DOH, Sanofi officials over Dengvaxia

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — The Public Attorney's Office (PAO) on Monday filed a civil case against two former health officials and Dengvaxia maker Sanofi Pasteur over the dengue vaccine mess.

The PAO filed the case before the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City on behalf of the family of Anjielica Pestilos who contracted severe dengue after getting vaccinated.

Government defense lawyers accused former Health Secretary Janette Garin, former Undersecretary Kenneth Uy, and other health officials of implementing the program in undue haste even if "the product has no proven safety and efficacy."

The PAO also said the former officials violated the right of the patients to informed consent and should be held liable for administering Dengvaxia without "appropriate screening" of children.

As for Sanofi and distributor Zuellig Pharma Philippines, the PAO said they knowingly sold, traded, and released an unsafe product that is still in the clinical trial stage. They are also accused of failing to inform the public of such risks.

The PAO is seeking at least P4.1 million in damages.

Those named in the civil case have yet to respond.

PAO Chief Persida Acosta said they are filing more cases against those responsible for the purchase of Dengvaxia and for implementing the dengue program.

PAO officials are, however, still deciding if they will file a case against former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. Both Garin and Uy were in office during his term.

Acosta said their strongest case is that of nine-year-old Pestilos.

Acosta said, based on their forensic exams, the child died due to Dengvaxia, adding she should have been excluded from being immunized since exams indicated she had a weak immune system and lupus.

PAO forensics chief Erwin Erfe said Dengvaxia aggravated the child's condition, leading to her death due to acute respiratory failure.

Parents not giving up

To assure themselves that what happened to Pestilos does not happen to their children, thousands of parents of Dengvaxia-vaccinated children gathered at the PAO Monday to seek medical and legal assistance.

They waited all day long, desperate to get help for their children.

To help the parents and relatives of the children, the PAO promised to provide free legal assistance, medical check-ups, and vitamins for the kids.

Susan Turtur said she was worried about the health of her grandson Prince, who was vaccinated in 2016.

"Nagkalagnat po siya ng tatlong araw tapos nagkarashes din po siya tapos sumakit din po yung lalamunan niya," she said.

[Translation: He developed a fever that lasted for three days and he got rashes as well, and his throat got sore.]

Erly Beldad was just as concerned – even if her niece, Princess, does not show symptoms of dengue.

But since Princess received Dengvaxia thrice since 2016, Beldad wanted to make sure she will be safe.

"Siyempre po nakakatakot po kasi eh lalo na po 'yung sa kapitbahay namin na patay nga po gawa nang sa Dengvaxia po," she said.

[Translation: Of course it's scary especially since our neighbor died because of Dengvaxia.]

Acosta said the gathering was a show of force against responsible for the scandal.

More importantly, it's for parents calling for justice for their kids who died allegedly because of Dengvaxia.

"Gusto ko pong malaman kung ano po ang nangyari sa aking anak at gusto ko pong ipaautopsy siya para malinawan po kami," said one of the parents, Maricel Manresa.

[Translation: I want to know what happened to my child and I want an autopsy so we can understand.]

Autopsies continue

The government is rejecting calls to stop the PAO from conducting autopsies on children who received Dengvaxia.

On Saturday, a group of doctors said only "competent forensic pathologists" should determine the cause of death and called on the Department of Justice to put a stop on the autopsies.

Ferdie Topacio, legal counsel of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, said: "Bakit ititigil ang autopsy? Ano ang itinatago nila na ayaw nilang malaman ang totoong sanhi ng pagkamatay nitong mga batang ito?'

[Translation: Why should the autopsies be stopped? What are they hiding that they don't want to know how these children died?]