MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:23 p.m.) — The House of Representatives Monday approved on third and final reading a measure seeking to hasten the national government’s purchase of coronavirus vaccines and establishing a vaccine indemnity fund which was earlier certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.
House Bill No. 8648, or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act bill, now includes a provision that allocates an indemnification fund of P500 million to compensate anyone found to have developed any adverse effects after being inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine.
HB 8648 also authorizes the health department and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 to procure coronavirus jabs, along with other supplies and services deemed necessary for their storage, transport, deployment, and administering.
"The COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund, which shall be administered by the [Philippine Health Insurance Corp.], is hereby established to compensate any person inoculated through the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, in case of death, permanent disability or hospitalization confinement for any SAEs," Section 10 of the law, which touches on indemnification, reads.
"The claim for indemnification for serious adverse event directly arising from the administration of COVID-19 vaccine must be filed within five (5) years from the day of inoculation."
A counterpart bill at the Senate is pending approval in plenary.
To recall, the government had earlier been required to signed separate Indemnification Agreements with foreign drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca under the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility as it initially had no laws providing for such funds.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., who also serves as chief implementer of the NTF, pointed to the agreements as one source of delay in the rollout of the national vaccination program.
The Philippines was supposed to start receiving the vaccines under the COVAX initiative last week but Malacañang rushed the Senate and the House of Representatives into passing the bill.
Besides the newly-inserted indemnification clause, the bill also exempts all other activities involved in the vaccination program including the procurement, importation, transportation, of vaccines and related equipment from taxes beginning January 2021 to the end of 2023.
It also allows local governments and private sector entities to make advance payments for vaccines and other equipment needed for vaccination provided these transactions are made in cooperation with the Department of Health. LGUs may also transact directly from manufacturers without public bidding under the bill.
Since the bill has been certified as urgent, lawmakers may approve it in its third and final reading before the end of the second regular session if they so choose.
Earlier Monday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed to the 2018 Dengvaxia controversy and the national government's mishandling of contract negotiations as among the reasons behind the delays in the rollout of the national vaccination program.
According to the health department's latest case bulletin issued earlier Monday afternoon, exactly 563,456 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the country since the pathogen first emerged in December 2019.
— Franco Luna with reports from Xave Gregorio and The STAR