MANILA, Philippines — The bill which creates a P500-million fund to compensate people who experience adverse effects due to coronavirus vaccines has cleared both houses of Congress, with the Senate approving the measure in a 22-0 vote a day after the House of Representatives passed a similar proposal.
Senate Bill No. 2057 seeks to earmark P500 million from the contingent fund in the 2021 national budget to augment the funds of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
It also seeks to grant public officers, their employees, contractors and volunteers who are duly authorized to carry out the COVID-19 vaccination program immunity from suit arising from claims out of the administration or use of coronavirus shots, unless the claim is brought about by willful misconduct.
The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for the speedy passage of this proposal, as vaccine manufacturers were seeking legal cover from any liability arising from lawsuits over adverse reactions due to the shots, which government officials attributed to the scandal surrounding the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
While it has passed both chambers of Congress, lawmakers would still have to thresh out differences between the bills passed by the House and the Senate in a bicameral conference committee before sending this to Duterte for his approval.
This would take some time, so a house of Congress can also opt to simply adopt the other chamber’s version.
Government officials blamed the lack of an indemnity law and agreements with vaccine manufacturers for the delay of what could have been the first shipments of coronavirus jabs from drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca through the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility.
Proponents of the measure said the passage of the bill will speed up the procurement of coronavirus vaccines as it seeks to break down what Sen. Sonny Angara called “regulatory barriers.”
Among these is the provision which allows the Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) to buy COVID-19 vaccines and the necessary supplies for its storage, transport and deployment through negotiated procurement instead of public bidding.
It also allows local government units to buy COVID-19 vaccines through a tripartite agreement with the national government and the supplier of the shot. Private entities may also purchase their own vaccines through the same way.
The bill also provides that COVID-19 vaccines and the necessary supplies will be exempted from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, donor’s tax and other fees and charges.
It also directs the DOH to issue a vaccine passport to all Filipinos which would contain basic personal information, the COVID-19 vaccine given to them, and the health facility where the shot was received.
The bill initially suggested that those who have completed COVID-19 immunization may be granted perks, but this was dropped in the final measure.