Senate finance panel endorses bill expediting purchase of COVID-19 vaccines

Published February 16, 2021, 11:23 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Senate Committee on Finance has endorsed for plenary approval the measure seeking to expedite the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

Sen. Sonny Angara (Henzberg Austria / Senate PRIB)

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate finance panel, said approval of Senate Bill No. 2057 or the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 is necessary to help the country realize its goal to be COVID-free this year, 2021.

“We, as a people, have lost so much because of the pandemic—in terms of jobs, opportunities and human life. However, we believe that with this measure, we have not lost out on the belief that there will in fact be an end to this ordeal,” Angara said in his sponsorship speech.

The bill, a consolidation of other COVID-19 related bills filed by senators, primarily aims to expedite procurement of the vaccines by authorizing the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) to undertake negotiated procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and the ancillary supplies and services for their storage, transport and distribution.

The measure also allows local government units (LGUs), namely provinces, cities and municipalities to purchase COVID-19 vaccines and ancillary supplies and services but only in cooperation with the DOH and the NTF.

The bill also allows LGUs to make advance payments for the purchase of the vaccines and supplies but only for up to 50 percent of their target population. It also mandates LGUs to give due priority to frontline health workers, senior citizens, and indigent persons as recipients of the vaccines.

Under the bill, LGUs will also be allowed to use whatever resources they have to purchase vaccines and supplies, on top of the P82.5-billion that has been appropriated in 2021 for the government’s national immunization program against COVID-19.

The bill also allows private entities to purchase vaccines subject to similar restrictions and conditions set for LGUs. It also exempts COVID-19 vaccines and supplies from customs duties, value added tax (VAT), excise tax, donor’s tax and other fees and charges levied on the purchased vaccines.

The measure also establishes a COVID-19 National Indemnification Fund—as proposed by the Department of Finance—in order to compensate any inoculated person that would subsequently suffer serious adverse side effects or SAEs after being vaccinated.

The bill also seeks a Vaccination Passport Program, in compliance with data privacy laws. These passports will contain only relevant information such as basic personal information, manufacturer of the vaccine used, date of inoculation, etc.

The measure, Angara said, also authorizes the Health Technology Assessment Council or HTAC to make recommendations to the DOH and PhilHealth about COVID-19 vaccines based on preliminary Phase 3 clinical trials, but only if the relevant vaccine manufacturer has been issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Through the aforementioned steps, we hope to break down some regulatory barriers, free up some resources, and empower as many government instrumentalities as we can towards the fast procurement and expeditious roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccinations,” Angara stressed.