Philippines plans to sue Sanofi over dengue vaccine

This file photo taken on April 4, 2016 shows a nurse showing vials of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, developed by French medical giant Sanofi, during a vaccination program at an elementary school in suburban Manila. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Philippines plans to sue Sanofi over dengue vaccine

MANILA: The Philippines intends to sue Sanofi after authorities suspended the pharmaceutical giant’s anti-dengue vaccine in response to the company warning the drug could lead to severe infections in some cases, the health secretary said Thursday.
Regulators froze the Philippines’ world-first public dengue immunization program last week and suspended all sales of the vaccine on Monday after Sanofi said Dengvaxia could worsen symptoms for vaccinated people who contracted the disease for the first time.
“Eventually it’s the court of law that is going to decide in so far as the liability of Sanofi is concerned,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said on ABS-CBN television
The previous administration of president Benigno Aquino launched the vaccination program last year, making the Philippines the first nation to use Dengvaxia on a mass scale.
About 830,000 schoolchildren had received at least one dose of the vaccine, Duque said on Thursday. Previously the government said more than 733,000 people had been vaccinated.
Sanofi’s announcement last week caused great concern in the Philippines — where the mosquito-born disease is extremely prevalent.
The French company on Monday sought to allay concerns, saying Dengvaxia would not cause anyone who was immunized to die and would not cause a dengue infection.
However, Duque said Thursday Sanofi’s recent statements on Dengvaxia were “confusing.”
Duque said he may ask Sanofi to refund 1.4 billion pesos ($27.6 million) worth of unused Dengvaxia supplies.
He added the government might also demand Sanofi set up an “indemnity fund” to cover the hospitalization cost for children vaccinated under the public program who would fall ill.
Asked if the government would sue Sanofi if allegations of a lack of transparency were proved, Duque said: “I’m sure it’s going to get there.”
He added: “If it’s found out that (Sanofi) withheld material information that would have changed the outcome of all of these problems and the decision makers of the Department of Health in the previous administration, then they are liable.”
Duque said congressional hearings into the issue would start next week.
Sanofi said Thursday it was surprised by Duque’s remarks, adding it would continue to comply with Philippine authorities’ legal directives.
“Sanofi is a responsible company that has acted according to Philippine laws and regulations for the supply and sale of the vaccine according to the approved label in the country,” the company said in a statement emailed to AFP.


Rescued Thai football boys pray for protection at Buddhist temple

Updated 31 min 3 sec ago
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Rescued Thai football boys pray for protection at Buddhist temple

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The Thai football boys and their coach began their first day back home with their families since they were rescued from a flooded cave with a trip to a Buddhist temple on Thursday to pray for protection from misfortunes.
The 11 boys and the coach kneeled and pressed their hands in prayer to the tune of chanting monks. They were joined by relatives and friends at the Wat Pra That Doi Wao temple, overlooking Myanmar on Thailand’s northern border.
The remaining member of the Wild Boars football team — Adul Sargon — is not a Buddhist and did not attend the ceremony, meant to extend one’s life and protect it from dangers.
The team has already said they would ordain as Buddhist novices to honor a former Thai navy SEAL diver who died in the cave while making preparations for their rescue.
On Wednesday evening, the boys and coach faced the media for the first time since their ordeal, describing their surprise at seeing two British divers rising from muddy waters in the recesses of the cave. It would be another week before they were pulled out of the Tham Luang cave.
“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul said. “So, we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”
In one poignant and emotional moment at the news conference, a portrait was displayed of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died. One of the boys, 11-year-old Chanin “Titan” Vibulrungruang, the youngest of the group, covered his eyes as if wiping away a tear.
“I feel sad. And another thing is I’m really impressed with Sgt. Sam for sacrificing his life for all 13 Wild Boars to be able to live our lives outside happily and normally,” he said. “When we found out, everyone was sad. Extremely sad, like we were the cause of this that made the sergeant’s family sad and having to face problems.”
The Wild Boars had entered the cave on June 23 for what was to be a relaxing excursion after football practice. But rain began, and water soon filled the cavern, cutting off their escape, and they huddled on a patch of dry ground deep inside the cave.
Coach Ekapol “Ake” Chanthawong said the trip was meant to last one hour, simply because “each of us wanted to see what was inside.”
When the hour was up, they were pretty deep inside and already had swum through some flooded areas in the spirit of adventure. But in turning back, he discovered the way was not at all clear, and he swam ahead to scout the route, attaching a rope to himself so the boys could pull him back if necessary.
He said he had to be pulled out.
Ekapol said he told the boys: “We cannot go out this way. We have to find another way.”
The boys told reporters of their reactions at that point.
“I felt scared. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to go home and my mom would scold me, said Mongkol Boonpiam, 13, prompting laughter.
Ekarat Wongsukchan, 14, said they decided “to calm ourselves first, to try to fix the problem and find a way out. Be calm and not shocked.”
The group had taken no food with them and survived by drinking water that dripped from the cave walls, Ekapol said, adding that all the boys knew how to swim, which had been a concern for rescuers.
Titan said he tried hard not to think about food. “When I’m starving, I don’t think of food otherwise it’d make me more hungry.”
Adul said they were digging around the spot when they heard the voices and Ekapol called for silence.
He recounted how Ekapol told them to “’quickly get down there, that’s the sound of a person, or else they’re going to pass on by,’ something like that.”
But he said his teammate holding the flashlight was scared, so Adul told him “If you’re not going to go, then I’ll go.”
“So I quickly took the flashlight, and quickly went down, and I greeted them, ‘hello,’” Adul added.
Psychologists had vetted the journalists’ questions in advance to avoid bringing up any aspects of the rescue that might disturb them. The dangers of the complicated operation, in which the boys were extracted in three separate missions with diving equipment and pulleys through the tight passageways, were not discussed.
Doctors said the 13 were physically and mentally healthy. Although they lost an average of 4 kilograms (9 pounds) during the more than two weeks they were trapped in the cave, they have since gained about 3 kilograms (6 1/2 pounds) on average since their rescue. They were treated for minor infections.
Asked what he had learned from their experience, 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam said he felt stronger. “I have more patience, endurance, tolerance,” he said.
Adul said it had taught him “not to live life carelessly.”
While many of the boys wanted to be pro football players when they grow up, at least four of them said they hope to become navy SEALs, so they could help others.
All expressed their apologies to their families.
“I wanted to apologize to my parents. I know that I will get yelled at by mom when I get home,” said Pornchai Kamluang, 16.
Ekarat said sheepishly he wanted to apologize to his parents because while he told them he was going to a cave, he told them the wrong one.
“I told them I was going to Tham Khun Nam,” he said. “I didn’t tell them I went to Tham Luang. So, I was wondering how they found us at the right cave.”