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Senate should probe why Sanofi got Zuellig for Dengvaxia sale

WHY did the Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi get Zuellig Pharma to be the broker for its P3 billion sale of the faulty vaccine to the health department?

Did the then health undersecretary Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, who had pushed for the Dengvaxia-based mass vaccination program, have a role in Zuellig’s designation as Sanofi’s broker and distributor?

Did Hartigan-Go have a hotline to President Benigno Aquino 3rd who rushed to get his administration to undertake the Dengvaxia mass vaccination before he stepped down from office in June 2016?

These are three questions the Senate’s blue ribbon committee investigating the diabolical Dengvaxia debacle should investigate to determine who is accountable for what the former health secretary Enrique Ona termed as a “major health nightmare in the country today.”

I would call Zuellig Pharma as the broker since the purchase order dated March 10, 2016 of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center—the health department unit designated for the transaction—for the P3 billion worth of Dengvaxia was not to Sanofi but to Zuellig Pharma.

But there was no need for Zuellig Pharma’s services as broker. It was government, in fact President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself, who negotiated with Sanofi for the deal that boosted the French firms’ troubled finances for its Dengvaxia business. Health Secretary Janette Garin even claimed that Aquino had negotiated a lower price for the vaccine.

Zuellig has become a huge distributor of drugs in the country because of the extensive network of doctors, hospitals and clinics that it has built up over many decades. But there was no need for its network for the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia.

Corruption by whom? Health undersecretary Hartigan-Go (center) with his former boss health secretary Garin (seated). Right, protest against Dengvaxia.

It was the health department that received the Dengvaxia from Sanofi, with the vaccine administered by its doctors and nurses in its health centers in the National Capital Region, and Regions III and IV-A. It was the education department which organized the vaccination program through its public school system; it simply had the nurses and doctors administer the vaccine in the classrooms.

A roughly similar (but apparently more cautious) program that vaccinated 500,000 children in a small area on Parana state in Brazil last year didn’t have a private distributor.

Zuellig Pharma wouldn’t have brokered the sale for free, obviously. The Senate should summon its executives to disclose how much it earned in this deal, which of course is charged to us taxpayers.

Hartigan-Go in the January 2016 minutes of the Formulary Executive Council –the body that approves what drugs and vaccines government can purchase—appeared to be Health Secretary Garin’s pointman in the Dengvaxia vaccination program undertaking. Sen. Richard Gordon, the chair of the blue ribbon committee remarked the other day: “Ikaw (Go) ang isa sa mga nagtutulak nito, di ba?” (“You are among those who pushed for this [the Dengvaxia vaccination program], right?”)

Director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2010 to 2014, Hartigan-Go is believed to have persuaded the FDA to approve Dengvaxia’s swift registration on December 22. That was the quickest approval to market any drug ever made by the FDA, since it received Sanofi’s complete application w\only on November 1. Hartigan-Go also attempted to persuade the Formulary Executive Council to allow government to purchase and use the Dengvaxia.

Significantly, it is solely Hartigan-Go who is on record as having disclosed that it was Aquino himself who had decided on undertaking the Dengvaxia vaccination program.

Minutes of the formulary council’s meeting of January 25, 2016 quoted Go as telling the body that the decision to fund and implement the Dengvaxia program was a “political decision,” already made by “a higher committee.”

One big reason why Gordon should grill Hartigan-Go is that he appears to have been close to Zuellig Pharma, which became the official distributor for the Dengvaxia vaccine which the health undersecretary pushed for. It’s difficult for me to believe that is just coincidence.

He was “founding Executive Director” of Zuellig Family Foundation from 2001 to 2009, and since December 2016, after government had vaccinated 830,000 children with Dengvaxia, has headed the Stephen Zuellig School of Development Management, a unit of the AIM funded by Zuellig.

While its foundations or an entity it finances are different from the company itself, still, there is no doubt that it is the firm’s owners that direct where its moneys are put.

A question that intrigues me: If Aquino made hundreds of millions through this Dengvaxia midnight deal, could these have been cleverly coursed as broker’s fees?