Senate panel endorses bill seeking P500M indemnification fund for COVID-19 vaccine side effects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — The Senate Finance Committee has endorsed for plenary approval a measure that would ensure availability of national funds to compensate Filipinos in case they die or experience serious side effects after receiving COVID-19 shots.

Senator Sonny Angara, who serves as the chair of the panel, sponsored Bill No. 2057 or the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 on Tuesday. It consolidated the bills related to COVID-19 vaccines filed by other lawmakers.

Under the bill, ₱500 million will be provided for the COVID-19 National Indemnity Fund. The money will be sourced from the contingent fund of the national budget. State insurance agency PhilHealth was tasked to oversee its administration. A special task group composed of medical and vaccine experts will conduct post-vaccination monitoring of patients.

Senator Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday said the pending bill will also allow the government to tap up to P13 billion-worth of contingency fund in the General Appropriations Act if needed. He added there is also a clause that vaccine manufacturers will be immune from liability should a serious side effect crop up.

Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. previously advised President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent the indemnity fund bill. He proposed setting aside P500 million for the indemnification fund.

The absence of an indemnification law has delayed the delivery of the initial 117,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech as this safeguard was one of the requirements of the World Health Organization before vaccines can be shipped through the COVAX facility.

The measure filed at the Senate also seeks to expedite the procurement and administration of vaccines, allowing local governments to purchase vaccines and other supplies for up to 50% of its target population. Private firms, in cooperation with the Health Department and National Task Force Against COVID-19, will also be allowed to buy vaccines for their own use through a multiparty agreement.

Under SB No. 2057, vaccination passports will be issued to people who have been inoculated. It will contain the person's basic information, the brand of vaccine used, and the date of inoculation.

Zubiri said that both houses might be able to ratify the measure early next week if Duterte certifies it as urgent.