The first batch of vaccines from the COVAX Facility will be delayed because the country does not have an indemnification law, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said Friday.
In the absence of such a law, Galvez said, the government will include an indemnification clause in the contract that will ensure Filipinos who experience serious side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will be compensated.
“I think the delay is only for one week,” Galvez said in an interview on ANC.
Galvez earlier told the Senate that the country could have received 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by now if the Philippines had an indemnification law which the COVAX Facility, led by the World Health Organization, requires.
Two bills seeking to establish an indemnification fund for vaccine-related injuries have been filed by Senators Nancy Binay and Ramon Revilla Jr., but the Palace said it has no intention to certify either of them as urgent.
In a televised press briefing, Roque said that certifying proposed measures as urgent does not guarantee quick passage into law by Congress.
“The effect of certification of bills as urgent is we do away with separate days for approval on second and third readings,” he said.
A bill certified by the President as urgent can be approved by Congress on second and third reading on the same day.
In Binay and Revilla’s bills, the indemnity fund will be subsidized by pharmaceutical companies that supply the government with vaccines for public immunization programs.
The proposal also provides that vaccine makers should reserve 1 percent of the contract price for the fund which will be deposited with the national treasury to be ultimately earmarked to compensate those who sustain “vaccine-related adverse events.”
Roque, meanwhile, said the Palace is counting on Congress to amend the government procurement law to allow local government units (LGUs) to make advance payments to vaccine manufactures for COVID-19 vaccines.
Some LGUs have raised concern that they cannot proceed with vaccine purchases because the procurement law bars them from making advance payments.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Friday said his bill will not give LGUs precedence over the national government in terms of vaccine procurement.
Zubiri was reacting to criticism of his bill, which aims to facilitate vaccine purchases by LGUs.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said he thinks the national government and local governments can work together under certain protocols to ensure non-politicization of the equitable access to vaccines, particularly for lower income sectors.
Zubiri said LGUs must still follow the national government’s lead.
“LGUs still need to follow the national guidelines for vaccine deployment set by the Department of Health and the National Task Force against COVID-19,” Zubiri said.
“So no one should fear inequitable distribution. Whether through the national government or the LGUs, our front liners will still be prioritized for vaccination,” he said.
Vaccines purchased by LGUs would augment the supply of the national government, he added.
Also on Friday, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado raised the need to increase the 15 percent limit on advance payments on contracts for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. This will ensure the timely and efficient implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination plan, he said. The existing authority only allows advance payment of up to 15 percent in exceptional cases such as the procurement of goods during a state of calamity.
He added that the government is experiencing difficulties in negotiating with various pharmaceutical companies due to the limitations imposed by existing laws.
In other developments:
* Senator Christopher Go said President Rodrigo Duterte may get vaccinated in public to boost public confidence in vaccines, if his physician approves. Go said that he has discussed public vaccination with Duterte, who is open to the idea if his physician permits it. As public servants, Go added that he and Duterte are willing to serve as examples to get more people to trust in the vaccines.
* The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said half of the 10,000 Chinese COVID-19 vaccines that will be received by the Presidential Security Group through a compassionate special permit (CSP) will be given to the wives and close contacts of the soldiers.
* FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the US company Moderna might apply for emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccines next week but their supply won’t be available in the Philippines until the middle of this year.