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Senate bill proposes P500-M fund for 'adverse effects' of COVID-19 vaccines

A P500-million COVID-19 vaccine indemnity fund is being proposed at the Senate, which would cover compensation or medical treatment arising from death or "serious adverse effects" to the vaccine.

Senate Bill (SB) 2057, the substitute bill for vaccine-related measures, was sponsored on Tuesday, February 16, by Senator Sonny Angara, the Senate finance committee chairperson.

SB 2057 was co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Bong Revilla Jr, Bong Go, Francis Tolentino, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, and Richard Gordon.

The bill proposes that a COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund be created, which should be administered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) if passed into law.

The P500-million allocation will be used to augment Philhealth funds, which would be sourced from the Contigent Fund in the 2021 national budget.

This also creates a special task group composed of medical and vaccine experts who will monitor the probable effects following immunization.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr had asked Congress to pass a law that would give the national government the responsibility to indemnify recipients who may experience serious reactions from the vaccine. This key measure has delayed the arrival of vaccines from the COVAX facility, which was supposed to arrive mid-February.

At the House of Representatives, the counterpart measure is still pending at the committee level.

Galvez asked President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, February 15, to certify the measure as urgent. Duterte's certification would speed up the legislative process, allowing lawmakers to do away with the 3-day interval rule between a bill's 2nd and 3rd reading.

Purchase of vaccines

All activities related to the vaccine program – from procurement, importation, transportation, to administration – should be exempt from taxes under the bill. If passed into law, tax exemption will be covered from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023.

Local government units (LGUs) and the private sector will be also allowed to purchase vaccines, in cooperation with the Department of Health and the National Task Force on COVID-19.

LGUs, however, can only procure up to 50% of their target population for vaccination. The bill allows the Inter-Agency Task Force to adjust the cap as needed.

The proposed measure will also give LGUs the power to make advance payments for vaccines, and goods and services needed for storage, transport, and administration.

A section in the bill also declared public officials, their employees, contractors, and volunteers immune from suit and liability from claims arising from the vaccine program, except if done under misconduct.

Vaccine passport

A vaccine passport program is also proposed under the bill, in which the Department of Health issues documentation to all Filipinos who had undergone COVID-19 vaccination.

According to SB 2057, the vaccine passport is intended to be digital, and that the DOH should work with the Department of Information and Communication Technology to set up the digital infrastructure.

The bill also proposes that the IATF grant certain benefits or exemptions to vaccinated individuals such as international travel, non-essential domestic travel, quarantine exemptions, and others.

SB 2057 also proposes hefty penalties against possessing more than one passport or using the file issued to another person, among others. Penalties range from P15,000 to P90,000 and imprisonment of 3 to 10 years. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.