Manila: After announcing that the Philippines is the first Asian country to adopt a vaccine for dengue, former Health Secretary Janette Garin is now trying to fend off flak for turning Filipino children into virtual lab rats.

The Philippines last year became the first country in Asia to pilot test Dengvaxia, a vaccine developed by French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur. The country allotted as much as P3.5 billion (Dh264 million) for the acquisition of the vaccine, so that thousands of schoolchildren in Metro Manila and other parts of the country would be given shots. But as it turned out, the vaccine has not yet been universally approved by necessary agencies.

Senator Richard Gordon said something seems amiss in the haste with which the previous administration, under President Benigno Aquino III, had approved the vaccine.

“The issue involved is the sudden decision made in the latter weeks of the previous administration. On December 22, 2015, the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approved a dengue vaccination to be introduced in the Philippines. On the same day, the then DOH [Department of Health] Secretary announced that DOH was awaiting pre-qualification guidelines from WHO [World Health Organisation] for the said vaccine. The pre-qualification ensures that vaccines procured are safe and effective. By April, the DOH started inoculating schoolchildren with the vaccine,” the senator said. The guidelines were only given in April after the vaccine had already been used.

“We cannot have these people pretending and playing God in our country, and say, ‘let’s put P3.5 billion here, not even Congress can question us because we make the decisions’,” he added.

Garin for her part, defended her department’s decision to approve the purchase of the vaccines.

She said that the Food and Drug Agencies of Mexico and Brazil had already reviewed the safety of the vaccine and that experts of the WHO have also approved the use of the drug.

Gordon is not satisfied with the reply.

Incumbent Health Secretary Paulyn Rosell-Ubial said during a recent hearing, that the finances used by the health department to purchase the vaccines was not included in the Department’s budget for 2016 but was given as additional allocation by the Department of Budget and Management that was sourced from the unobligated funds of other agencies.

Gordon said he will file a resolution calling for an investigation in aid of legislation into the said procurement which has turned the Philippines into the “number one guinea pig in Asia” and has exposed Filipino schoolchildren to danger.

“I have no say on whether this vaccine is effective or not. What I am after is that when somebody makes a fast buck, I am duty-bound to rise and to obviate any questions of lack of transparency ... The issue is we have again to ferret whether there is danger or there is not enough due diligence required that has not been done or whether there are other priorities that this money could have been used for,” he said.

Rosell-Ubial had said that the government is closely watching the effectiveness of a dengue vaccine amid reports of increasing number of cases worldwide.