Senators predict smooth-sailing for bill relaxing rules on COVID-19 vaccine procurement

Published February 18, 2021, 12:53 PM

by Mario Casayuran

 Senators  Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara are convinced that the bill proposing to relax rules on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines will hurdle Senate approval with ease.

(Photo by John Cairns / University of Oxford / AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Aside from Go and Angara among the principal-authors, 15 more senators have co-authored Senate Bill (SB) 2057 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Bill.

Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health,  has co-sponsored SB 2057 designed to hasten the procurement of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

The measure allows local government units (LGUs) to procure vaccines and make advance payments, and to include an indemnification fund requested by vaccine manufacturers to cover the possible expenses and claims arising from adverse effects of the vaccines.

According  Angara, the principal sponsor of the measure to hasten the process of procurement and administration of the COVID-19 vaccines, the measure gives authority to the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 to “undertake negotiated procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and the ancillary supplies and services for their storage, transport, and distribution.”

If required by the supplier, manufacturer, distributor, contractor or consultant, the bill also allows LGUs procuring their own vaccines to pay in advance not more than 50 percent of the contract price. 

The said measure was also co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Imee R. Marcos, Grace Poe, Pia S. Cayetano, Ramon ‘’Bong’’ Revilla Jr., Francis Tolentino, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Cynthia A. Villar, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, Emmanuel ‘’Manny’’ Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva and Richard J. Gordon.

“In the spirit of bayanihan, some LGUs have entered into tripartite agreements with the national government and vaccine manufacturers and have allotted funds to help ensure the immediate and efficient roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program. Malaking tulong po ito. Sa kabila nito, marami pa tayong mga oportunidad upang magtulungan (This is a big help. Aside from this, there are more opportunities for us to work together), ”Go said. 

SB 2057 also proposes the creation of a COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund. It will be administered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and will be sourced from the 2021 national budget’s Contingent Fund.

“The Vaccine Indemnification Fund is intended to be earmarked exclusively to compensate and indemnify identified vaccine recipients who sustain injury in connection with the use of the vaccines and where the adverse effects may be attributed to the vaccination,” Go explained.

He added that, according to vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., all vaccine manufacturers require indemnity and liability frameworks, which include setting up an indemnification fund backed by legislation to safeguard them from possible liabilities.

Go also emphasized and commended the inclusion of a provision in the Committee Report that would waive the requirement of Phase 4 trials for COVID-19 medication and vaccine stipulated in the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law to expedite the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The provision under Bayanihan 2 is due to expire next month which is why this provision is needed to cover the ongoing procurement of vaccines,” Go explained.

The Health Technology Assessment Council will now have the authority to make recommendations to the DOH and the PhilHealth on COVID-19 vaccines based on preliminary data from Phase 3 clinical trials and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

“I just want to underscore that to ensure safety, there must be an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration,” Go suggested.