President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday signed into law a measure that would expedite the procurement of coronavirus vaccines and establish a P500-million indemnification fund for possible jab side effects.
The new law, known as the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, establishes an indemnity fund that will be used to compensate those who will be hospitalized or die after receiving Covid-19 vaccines.
The fund will be sourced from the contingent fund under the General Appropriations Act of 2021, and will be administered by Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
The measure is expected to hasten the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in the country, since an indemnity fund is among the requirements of vaccine manufacturers to exempt them from liability should their products cause serious adverse effects.
The lack of an indemnification mechanism in the Philippines impeded the delivery of 117,000 vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines which were supposed to be shipped to the country on 15 February through the World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility.
Officials have earlier claimed that some vaccine manufacturers had been hesitant to provide Covid-19 jabs to the Philippines without the government’s pledge to compensate vaccine takers experiencing adverse effects due to the Dengvaxia controversy in 2017.
Meanwhile, the new law also authorizes the Department of Health and the National Task Force Against Covid-19 to procure Covid-19 vaccines, including ancillary supplies and services necessary for their storage, transport, deployment and administration, through negotiated procurement under emergency cases.
The new law also authorizes agencies to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions on behalf of local government units and other procuring entities such as private firms.
The measure also provides perks to individuals who have completed Covid-19 immunization such as exemptions to local checkpoint and quarantine, as well as access to business establishments.
Under the law, the vaccines will also be exempted from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, and other fees.
“We are confident that the signing of this landmark piece of legislation would expedite the procurement and administration of vaccines for the protection against Covid-19,” presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said through a statement.
“Indeed, we remain committed in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic and we are using necessary means, such as the enactment of this Republic Act, certified urgent by the President, as a way to start our vaccine rollout,” he added.
The first batch of anti-Covid vaccines will arrive in the Philippines on Sunday, which will be witnessed by Duterte and Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.
The Chinese government donated the 600,000 vaccine shots developed by Beijing’s Sinovac Biotech, of which 100,000 doses are reserved for the military.