A SENATOR has filed a bill that seeks to vaccinate the country’s more than 100 million Filipinos against the coronavirus for free.

Senator Leila M. de Lima’s Senate Bill 1942 will set up a program that mandates coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) referral hospitals and tertiary public hospitals to offer free vaccines.

In a statement on Sunday, she cited the need to “guarantee free vaccination for all Filipinos whose right to health should not be diminished by belatedly acting on the health crisis.”

There were four vaccine makers that applied for clinical trials in the country, including China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Chinese drug company Clover Biopharmaceuticals.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca last week withdrew its application for local trials.

Congress has just approved the P4.5-trillion national budget for next year, which will allocate P2.5 billion for vaccines under the Department of Health budget and P70 billion more in unprogrammed funds.

There is also a P10-billion standby fund, provided by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II), bringing the total vaccine allocation to P82.5 billion.

Ms. de Lima’s bill also mandates an inter-agency task force (IATF), along with infectious disease experts, to draft a distribution plan that will prioritize front-liners, vulnerable sectors and people in areas with high COVID-19 cases.

“A concrete plan of action that will universally promote the right of all Filipinos to health is vital in winning this battle against COVID-19,” said the senator, a presidential critic who is in prison on drug trafficking charges.

“A vaccination plan that is inclusive will be an instrument to create herd immunity in a country of more than 100 million,” she added.

The vaccination program will inform people about the risks and benefits of the coronavirus vaccine.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,085 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 449,400.

The death toll rose to 8,733 after three more patients died, while recoveries increased by 9,269 to 418,687, it said in a bulletin.

There were 21,980 active cases, 84.4% of which were mild, 5.8% did not show symptoms, 6.3% were critical, 3.2% were severe and 0.33% were moderate.

Quezon City reported the highest number of new cases at 103, followed by Rizal at 46, Makati City at 44, Manila at 43 and Pasig City at 39.

DoH said 16 duplicates had been removed from the tally, while one recovered case was reclassified as a death. Nine laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 12.

The coronavirus has sickened about 72.2 million and killed 1.6 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 50.5 million people have recovered, it said.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca last week withdrew its application for clinical trials in the Philippines, saying it had enough data, FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo said last week. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas