By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — The Senate on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, passed on third and final reading the bill which will expedite the purchase and administration of COVID-19 vaccines to Filipinos.
With an overwhelming 22 affirmative votes, the Senate in its hybrid plenary session, approved Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2057 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021.
Sen. Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Committee on Finance and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed measure will expedite the purchase and administration of COVID-19 vaccines to end the pandemic earlier and to jumpstart economic recovery in the country.
SBN 2057, in consideration of SBN 2056 or the Vaccine Indemnification Fund bill authored by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, is a consolidation of Senate bills and proposed resolutions authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” F. Zubiri, Sens. Angara, Pia Cayetano, Imee R. Marcos, Grace Poe, and Ramon Bong Revilla Jr.
In his sponsorship speech, Angara said the measure aims to expedite the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines through the following:
• By authorizing the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force against COVID-19 to undertake negotiated procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and the needed supplies and services for their storage, transport and distribution;
• By allowing provinces, cities, and municipalities to purchase COVID-19 vaccines and needed supplies and services;
• By allowing private entities to purchase vaccines subject to similar restrictions and conditions set for local government units and only for the sole and exclusive use of these private entities;
• By exempting from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, donor’s tax and other fees and charges levied on the procured COVID-19 vaccines and the necessary supplies for their storage, transport and distribution.
“Through the aforementioned steps, we hope to break down some regulatory barriers. We hope to free up some resources and empower as many government instrumentalities as we can towards the fast procurement and expeditious roll out of COVID-19 vaccinations,” Angara said.
Angara said the measure also included safeguards such as the authority given to the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) to make recommendations to DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) about COVID-19 vaccines.
To ensure quick response in case there are any who might experience serious adverse side effects after being vaccinated, Angara said, a special task group comprised of medical and vaccine experts will also be established by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the sole purpose of conducting post-vaccination monitoring of patients.
Under the bill, a P500-million indemnity fund will also be created which will be used to compensate any inoculated person who subsequently experiences serious adverse side effects or worse, death. The fund will be sourced from the Contingent Fund and will be administered by PhilHealth.
The bill also mandates the issuance of COVID-19 vaccination cards, which could be digital or printed, to serve as a record of all COVID-19 vaccinations received. (AI/MTVN)