MANILA – Protesters converged on Monday at the office of French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur in Manila amid an ongoing scandal in the Philippines over the firm’s dengue fever vaccine.
Around 20 people gathered for the protest which was organized by the Coalition for People’s Right to Health and Health Alliance for Democracy, an epa journalist reported.
As the group rallied outside the office, most protesters wore face masks depicting guinea pigs, carrying signs criticizing the drug company with messages including “Dengvaxia – Criminal neglect!” and “Public health not corporate wealth!”
Sanofi Pasteur has faced a public backlash since the firm claimed in November that people who been vaccinated with its Dengvaxia drug – the world’s first licensed dengue fever vaccine – should be closely observed because those who had not previously been infected could experience severe symptoms.
The Philippines’ Department of Health then suspended a large-scale dengue immunization campaign early in December, which had been administered to more than 800,000 children in dengue-risk areas.
More people, including the parents of children who had received Sanofi Pasteur’s Dengvaxia drug, were supposed to attend the protest Monday but the rain kept them at home, protesters told epa.
Though no one was arrested, several argued with security guards at the office, who told the group that Sanofi Pasteur had since moved.
The Philippine Senate last week held hearings to investigate the drug scandal, which were attended by former president Benigno Aquino III, WHO representative for the Philippines Gunder Weiler and Sanofi Pasteur’s Asia-Pacific representative Thomas Triomphe, among others.
Triomphe offered last Wednesday an apology for the “confusion” over Dengvaxia and he stated the vaccine is safe, despite his company’s announcement in November.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said last Tuesday that President Rodrigo Duterte would pursue all those responsible for the vaccine crisis.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had previously said the Philippines would demand a refund of the 3.5 billion pesos ($69.4 million) paid to Sanofi Pasteur for Dengvaxia, as well as seek an indemnification fund from the company to cover the hospitalization and treatment costs of children who could suffer from severe dengue.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne infection prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions, the symptoms of which resemble severe flu and include headaches and muscle and joint pain, according to a WHO fact sheet.
Severe dengue can lead to death if patients go untreated, and until Dengvaxia was released no specific treatment against the illness was known.
The fever is most common in Southeast Asian countries and on western Pacific Islands.