Bills creating indemnity fund for COVID-19 jabs certified urgent

Bills creating indemnity fund for COVID-19 jabs certified urgent
Illustration file photo taken on Nov. 23, 2020 showing a bottle reading "Vaccine COVID-19" and a syringe next to the Pfizer and BioNtech logos.
AFP / Joel Saget

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent proposed measures in the Senate and the House of Representatives that would establish a compensation fund for recipients of COVID-19 vaccines in case of adverse reactions.

This was announced by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. during a Palace briefing aired over state-run PTV.

Senate Bill 2057 and House Bill No. 8648 seek to expedite the procurement of badly-needed coronavirus vaccines.

The Senate's bill establishes a P500-million National Indemnity Fund while the House's version does not specify an amount for the compensation.

When the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill, these have to be reconciled at a bicameral conference committee.  A chamber can also adopt their counterpart's version.

Earlier versions of the upper and lower houses' bills originally contained provisions allowing LGUs to purchase vaccines directly from manufacturers but both measures now require multi-party agreements between the local government, the DOH and the vaccine supplier.

Both proposed measures allow local government units to make down payments of up to 50% for their vaccine orders.

Galvez also announced that Duterte approved a memorandum order which similarly allows LGUs to make those payments.

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) on Thursday lauded Duterte for signing the memo, calling it "an important step in the fight to defeat the spread of COVID-19."

"The president's signing of the memorandum will also help our LGUs transition to some kind of normalcy as we aim to further open the economy to help business sector reopen and reemploy those who have been displaced by the pandemic."

What does the certification do?

Duterte's certification frees lawmakers from having to hold the three required readings on separate days. It also means that lawmakers can dispense with having to wait for printing or distribution for three days before the passage of the measure.

The Senate is set to hold a second reading for the measure next Monday.

As it stands, the national government is three days behind its "indicative" date for the "mini rollout" of its vaccine program. 

Vaccines from Pfizer, which were supposed to arrive first, were delayed due to the need for an indemnity program that would shift any liability for the adverse effects of the jabs from the vaccine manufacturers to the government.

Senators on Wednesday said that if they had been informed of the need for an indemnity fund sooner, they would have addressed it. Galvez, for his part, has said that this requirement was only recently raised by the COVAX facility and other suppliers.

In addition to the delayed shipment from Pfizer, the 600,000 doses of Sinovac donated by China is also likely to come later than the promised February 23, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday, due to the lack of emergency use authorization for the jabs from local regulators.

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Xave Gregorio 

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