President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday signed into law a measure that seeks to hasten the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines and sets up a P500 million indemnity fund to compensate those who may experience adverse consequences from the anti-virus jabs.
“We are confident that the signing of this landmark piece of legislation would expedite the procurement and administration of vaccines for the protection against COVID-19,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
Under the new law, local government units as well as the private sector are now allowed to procure doses through a multilateral pact with the National Task Force, Department of Health, and the vaccine supplier. LGUs are likewise given the greenlight to make advance payments for the vaccine purchase.
The country will receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday with the arrival of 600,000 doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
The DOH on Friday said the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) has agreed to recommend the Sinovac vaccine for health workers.
The recommendation seemed to fly in the face of an earlier Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggestion that it not be administered to frontline health workers because of its varying levels of efficacy.
But Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the emergency use authorization (EUA) issued by the FDA and the current evidence available are “enough to establish that the vaccine is safe for use.”
“Our NITAG experts with the TAG (Technical Advisory Group) experts have concluded that the vaccine will be beneficial for the health care workers,” she said in an online briefing.
On Monday, the FDA granted an EUA to Sinovac’s vaccine, but did not recommend it for use by health workers due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent in clinical trials for the said group.
The FDA later said, however, that health workers can still take the Chinese vaccine if they want to do so.
Dr. Marissa Alejandria, a member of the DOH TAG, said the experts reviewed data from unpublished trials.
“Considering the circumstances that our country is in where the first vaccine that we have now is really Sinovac, the same considerations in evaluating were used. So the efficacy, the safety, and then rational allocation of the vaccine,” Alejandria said.
The NITAG finalized its recommendation after days of deliberation on how to allocate the doses.
Senator Christopher Go, a constant companion of the President, on Friday said the Chief Executive would personally witness the turnover ceremony of the first batch of Sinovac vaccines when they arrive on Feb. 28.
A former Health secretary, Iloilo Rep. Janet Garin said the FDA was wrong in excluding health care workers as recipients of the Chinese vaccine.
Garin said efficacy rate is just one of the parameters on vaccine use and other factors should be considered, saying “vaccination saves lives.”
• Vaccination among the Armed Forces personnel, meanwhile, was “not a matter of choice,” but they can choose the vaccine brand they want, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said. “To get inoculated or not is not an option for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, it is a duty. At the most, the exercise of option will be the option to choose what brand of vaccine they will be availing of, but the cost of which will not be paid by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.” Arevalo also said the unauthorized use of an unregistered Chinese vaccine by members of the Presidential Security Group was “an act of heroism.”
• The President reduced the number of holidays this year to help the economy recover from the impact of the pandemic. In Proclamation No. 1107, Duterte declared Nov. 2, 2021 (All Soul’s Day), Dec. 24, 2021 (Christmas Eve) and Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) as special working days. “For the country to recover from the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to encourage economic productivity by, among others, minimizing work disruption and commemorating some special holidays as special (working) days instead,” the President said.
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