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Law on vaccine harm fund, LGUs marked urgent

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By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has certified as urgent the proposed laws that will address obstacles in the procurement and delivery of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, the Palace said on Thursday.

The President issued the certification for Senate Bill 2057 and its counterpart, House Bill 8648, the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act, according to Presidential Spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr.

“The Palace confirms that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed today, February 18, 2021, the memorandum order on the fifteen percent limit on advanced payments for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and the certification of the urgency of the bills establishing a vaccine indemnity fund,” he said in a statement.

“We are confident that both documents would ensure the timely and efficient implementation of the government’s COVID-19 mass vaccination program.”

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The President’s certification allows legislators to pass the bill on second and third reading on the same day.

The Senate bill seeks to establish a P500-million indemnity fund that will be used to compensate any vaccine recipient who will experience adverse side effects.

The fund will be administered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

Under the measure, manufacturers are not liable for vaccine-related injuries as national governments assume responsibility for the utilization of vaccines covered by an emergency use authorization.

The Philippines failed to receive an initial batch of 117,000 coronavirus vaccine doses secured under the global facility for equal access due to the lack of an indemnification plan, which could give protection to vaccine administrators and drug makers from possible lawsuits.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said foreign manufacturers were concerned with the country’s past experience with its controversial dengue immunization program.

Drug manufacturers would be held liable for vaccine-related injuries once the shots are authorized for commercial use, Mr. Roque said.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
The measure also empowers local government units (LGUs) to enter into an advance payment scheme for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines and other supplies.

It allows provinces, cities and municipalities to make advance payments to manufacturers with a limit of 50% of the contract price, in cooperation with the Department of Health (DoH) and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 through a multi-party agreement.

Under Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, advance payment shall not exceed 15% of the contract amount pending delivery of services “unless otherwise directed by the President.”

The private sector may also procure vaccines in cooperation with the Health department and the task force through a similar multiparty agreement.

The Senate bill also proposes to make vaccines exempt from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, donor’s tax, and other fees. It also wants to institutionalize a Vaccine Passport Program.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri on Thursday said the upper chamber aims to ratify its version of the bill on Monday.

“We will try to pass it on second and third reading by Monday,” Mr. Zubiri told reporters via Viber.  The bill was endorsed to the plenary last Tuesday.

CASES
Meanwhile, the DoH reported 1,744 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 555,163.

The death toll rose by 96 to 11,673, while recoveries increased by 412 to 512,357, it said in a bulletin.

The death rate is at 2.10% while recovery rate is at 92.3%.

There were 31,115 active cases, 85.6% of which were mild, 8.6% did not show symptoms, 2.5% were critical, 2.5% were severe, and 0.78% were moderate.

The Health department said five duplicates were removed from the tally while 68 recoveries were reclassified as deaths.

Six laboratories failed to submit their data on Feb. 17, the agency said.

According to the DoH tracker website, more than 7.9 million Filipinos have been tested as of Feb. 16.

More than 110.5 million were infected and more than 2.4 million people died due to coronavirus, according to Worldometers website which cited various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 85.4 million have recovered worldwide, it said.

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