The Department of Health (DOH) has asked Congress to extend the validity of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act, saying its provisions would become invalid once the government lifts the state of calamity.
The law, Republic Act 11525, remains in full force and effect during the period of the state of calamity declared by the President, DOH officer-in-charge and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told senators at the launch of the “PinasLakas” COVID-19 vaccination booster program at the Senate Wednesday.
The law covers the emergency use authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines, tax exemptions for the assistance received by the government, emergency procurements, and measures to control the price of commodities.
In September 2021, former President Rodrigo Duterte extended the COVID-19 state of calamity until Sept. 12, 2022.
“This declaration will, among others, effectively afford the national government, as well as local government units’ ample latitude to continue to implement the COVID-19 vaccination program,” Duterte said in his proclamation.
It also allowed the government to use appropriate funds, including a Quick Response Fund, and monitor and control prices of basic necessities and prime commodities as well as provide basic services to affected populations.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the senators would study the DOH appeal, saying if the law is time-bound, they could simply extend the validity of the act.
On Monday, the Senate leaders said they will hold a hearing with the DOH to look into the amendments the agency wanted amid the COVID-19 surge.
In an interview Wednesday, Vergeire said the DOH would propose redefining the term “fully vaccinated” to people who have had their first jabs and a booster shot.
Vergeire said they had already proposed such a plan to the previous administration but were told to put it on hold so as not to derail the reopening of the economy.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has tested positive twice for COVID-19, has consistently reminded the public to get their booster shot as additional protection.
The DOH also launched its PinasLakas campaign with a goal to boost 23.8 million Filipinos or 50 percent of the eligible population within the first 100 days of the Marcos administration.
It also aims to vaccinate 90 percent of the target senior citizens within the same period.
Based on DOH’s latest data, 16.6 million Filipinos have now received their booster shots, while 71.9 million are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In other developments:
• The Public Attorney’s Office on Wednesday maintained that COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory. PAO chief Persida Acosta backed the Department of Education, which said it can only abide by the national policy that vaccination is not mandatory. Acosta welcomed DepEd’s anti-discrimination position against unvaccinated children, teachers, and non-faculty personnel.
• The independent monitoring OCTA Research Group said Wednesday that the one-week growth rate of COVID-19 infections in the National Capital Region (NCR) has decreased to 5 percent. OCTA fellow Guido David, in a tweet, said that NCR’s growth rate as of Tuesday, Aug. 9, was at 5 percent after logging 828 new COVID-19 cases. This is down from the 14 percent growth rate recorded in the region on Aug. 2.
NCR’s reproduction number — or the number of people infected by one case — also went down to 1.17 as compared to the 1.24 recorded last week. Metro Manila’s one-week positivity rate—or the percentage of people found positive for COVID-19 among the total number of people tested—also decreased from 17.4 percent on Aug. 6 to 15.9 percent on Aug. 9.